Sparsholt College, in partnership with IT services company risual, is the first land-based college in the UK to open a Microsoft Academy to tackle the serious digital skills gap in the region. At a busy launch event with over 50 delegates the College has introduced future-proof and relevant Apprenticeships in IT and Telecommunications which will upgrade skills through Microsoft certification.

The Academy provides exciting opportunities for local businesses in need of digital upskilling with a new suite of courses and Apprenticeships from the latest in cyber security to cloud infrastructure technicians. It affords welcome opportunities to businesses so they too can address skills gaps such as digital marketing within their own organisations. The new suite of exciting IT, software, web and telecoms professionals Apprenticeships will be accessed by wider business community to train their next generation of IT professionals.

During the launch local businesses heard from a number of key speakers including Microsoft, the founder of risual and the Enterprise M3 Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). The stand out message throughout was that every business is now a technology business and every business should have a digital skills-set at the heart of it.

Tina Jones, Director of Education at risual, said: “It’s vital that colleges recognise the importance of equipping young people with digital skills and we’re delighted that Sparsholt has brought us on board to help. It’s essential that colleges like Sparsholt continue to innovate and challenge young people to do more with Apprenticeships. We’re hoping that everyone at the College will be able to reap the benefits of having a risual Microsoft Academy, as digital skills are a key driver for employment in all sectors.”

As well as being the first land-based college to open a Microsoft Academy, Sparsholt is the chosen partner for the Enterprise M3 Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). The LEP has provided part of the funding for the Academy, through Local Growth Funds, in line with its digital strategy for engaging SMEs and employers with the digital agenda. The Enterprise M3 LEP covers mid to North Hampshire as well as South and West Surrey and only one academy is to be opened in each of England’s LEP regions.

Addressing the gathering Geoff French, CBE, Chair of Enterprise M3 LEP said: “Education and skills are the single most important factor in driving economic growth and digital skills are now essential in today’s technology-driven world and it is one of the LEP’s priorities to ensure that the right quality and quantity of such skills are available; this is essential to help drive productivity and achieve the vision for economic prosperity in our area.”

The Enterprise M3 area is one of the most productive and fastest growing digital economies in the UK and is playing an important role in encouraging growth in other areas.

Geoff French added: “Enterprise M3’s rural economy is of considerable importance with 15% of its economic output generated from rural locations. This academy will help develop the future digital professionals in this important economic area which will be a necessity for all businesses, and it is good to see rural businesses being supported directly.”

Martin Simmons, Deputy Principal said: “We see education being transformed through technology and the digitalised world demands that all our students have the very latest digital skills alongside their advanced technical skills. This Microsoft Academy will change the face of the provision here at Sparsholt. The Academy will enable the next generation of land-based employees to be true digital natives.

“Every member of the Sparsholt teaching team now uses the latest IT equipment to support learning and improve the digital skills of students, improving their employability and ability to run their own businesses successfully in the modern world. The Academy, fully equipped with the very latest technologies, will enable digital skills to be embedded within the curriculum and provide resource and training for specialist lecturers”.

The College’s Academy opening co-incided with an announcement yesterday from Microsoft who launched a programme to teach digital skills to people across the UK to ensure the country remains one of the global leaders in cloud computing, artificial intelligence and other next-generation technologies. The company is to train 30,000 public servants for free in a range of digital skills and has  committed to making sure everyone in the UK has access to free, online digital literacy training. Additionally, Microsoft is also launching a Cloud Skills Initiative, which will train 500,000 people in the UK in advanced cloud technology skills by 2020.

The risual Microsoft Academy launch places Sparsholt College firmly in the vanguard of this movement.