Digital Burnley hub at former Burnley Grammar School

Burnley’s digital economy is set to receive a massive boost after Mark Crabtree OBE announced ambitious plans to transform the iconic former Burnley Grammar school into a thriving, hi-tech hub for digital SMEs and micro-businesses.

Crabtree is best known as the Oscar-winning man who, with his Burnley-headquartered company AMS Neve, conquered the world in digital sound engineering.

A former pupil of Burnley Grammar, he is investing a seven figure sum into creating a unique collaborative workspace for digital start-ups, SMEs and allied businesses.

The Landmark Burnley is set to open its doors to the first wave of digital businesses in September, with impressive plans that will see the historic grade 2 listed former grammar school become the show piece of Burnley’s thriving tech economy.

“The Landmark project is a way to help Burnley grow its digital skills base and for that not to ‘leak’ out to say, Manchester, but keep the talent and skill in Burnley,” said Crabtree.

“In the past, people starting businesses used to need money to buy machinery, hence the grants process.

“Now they need a laptop, an idea and somewhere other than their kitchen table to work. But the point is they want to work with like minds and have social gathering spaces to encourage each along.”

The Landmark will also have allied businesses in situ, a small presence of lawyers and accountants in a move that means those professions will be on hand to assist the young companies grow and flourish.

Crabtree’s partner in running the operation of the Landmark space is David Walker, managing director and founder of digital marketing company +24Marketing.

“I could see there were many digital businesses ‘under the radar’ in the Borough and together with the Council regeneration team we got together 20 of the 60 businesses we identified and asked what they needed in order to grow and stay in the town,” said Crabtree.

“Top of the list was their desire to work next to each other and share knowledge, making connections.

“The bigger the pool, the more successful the companies. We are working to link with Rob Binns’ successful private venture Cotton Court in Preston and the publicly and university-funded Landing at Media City in Salford, through a twinning scheme.

“If you have space in one of these workspaces, you can have a desk in any of the others when doing business in the corresponding area.”

Burnley Grammar School dates back to 1559 as an entity and the building which is becoming Landmark Burnley first opened its doors to pupils in the 19th century.

Plans for The Landmark include creating several different ‘flavours’ of accommodation, from oak panelled office space to modern, hi-tech, areas with features including a glass atrium linking the old part of the building to the newer areas and a glass lift.

The main hall will become a ‘super meeting space’ due to open as soon as possible.

This will then be used for seminars and other meetings, hosting the likes of global tech giants Google and Microsoft to Burnley.

Via Business Cloud.

Confusion reigns over apprenticeship reform

Businesses are missing opportunities to ‘upskill’ their workforces with employers confused about how the apprenticeship levy system works, a Lancashire Business View report has revealed.

Apprenticeships are no longer confined to school-leavers taking up traditional ‘hands-on’ trades. But implementation of new ways to deliver – and pay for – apprenticeships has been so badly handled that new registrations have actually fallen.

Lisa Whiteoak, director of TrainingStation, told Lancashire Business View: “The apprenticeship levy scheme imposes a levy on large employers, those with a pay bill over £3m each year, to help fund apprenticeship training within their business. But this has left a lot of employers confused about how it works and many don’t even know that they are paying into the levy.”

Whiteoak says that used correctly the new system can be a great benefit to all sizes of business. “The government provides all of the funding for training for 16- to 18-year-old apprentices if a company is a non-levy employer, and contributes 90 per cent of the funding for candidates over 19. The government is also offering an incentive of £1,000 for both levy and non-levy payers to take on young apprentices aged 16-18, so now is the ideal time to evaluate your workforce and assess your future requirements.”

Dr Rachel Cragg, pro vice-chancellor (academic development) at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), agrees that the message has not been well promoted. She told Lancashire Business View:  “There is a general lack of awareness and understanding of apprenticeships, how they work, and what they can offer.”

Michele Lawty-Jones, director of the Lancashire Skills Hub, has seen a significant drop in apprenticeship starts since the introduction of the reforms in April 2017. She told Lancashire Business View: “There are different patterns in different sectors – the greatest drops in starts have been in sectors such as health and social care and visitor economy, with lesser drops in traditional areas such as construction and engineering. There is slight growth in digital apprenticeship starts which is bucking overall trends.”

However she added: “We are starting to see growth in higher level and degree apprenticeships as new standards are being signed off – and we expect to see continued growth in this area.”

It’s not a mystery why businesses are shying away from apprenticeships, according to the Lancashire Business View report. Delivery of new frameworks was staged, but long delays in the implementation left many industries in limbo, stuck between (or adopting both) new and old standards. And the new levy fund can seem overly complex on first look. John Westhead, head of operations and learning at Training 2000, told the magazine the companies he meets are also concerned about the perceived time it takes to train a new apprentice.

He said: “Employers want to recruit because they have a staff shortage, and they don’t feel that an apprentice who then has to spend 20 per cent of their time training will fill that gap, especially if they require supervision and mentoring from colleagues,” he says.

However, Debbie Simpson of Lancaster University says apprenticeships are most effective when viewed as a wider proposal, the opportunity to upskill a whole workforce and not merely a way of recruiting school-leavers. She said: “One perceived barrier is the belief that apprentices are young, new recruits. However, the latest apprenticeship programmes are very relevant to existing employees.”

And Hannah Baker, business development manager, apprenticeships at Blackburn College, said: “There is a wealth of support available to businesses, whether their apprenticeship plans are focused on professional development and upskilling for existing staff or to support recruitment. Despite the concerns, Michele Lawty-Jones believes apprenticeships in the county have a bright future: “There are strong foundations in place, both in terms of the provider base and employer engagement.

“Together we believe we can continue to make apprenticeships work for Lancashire – to home grow talent and skills to meet the needs of our employers now and in the future.”

A full version of this report is published in the latest issue of Lancashire Business View, the independent magazine for commerce and business which has been connecting the county since 2005. The report can be accessed by clicking here.

The Apprenticeship Guide is sponsored by Blackburn College, Blackpool and The Fylde College, CETAD, North Lancs Training Group, Preston’s College, Training 2000, Training Station and UCLan.

Developer roles see 16% pay rise

Developer roles have seen a 16% pay rise as skills shortage forces North West businesses to up wages. Almost half of North West tech and digital businesses have had to increase wages above typical levels in order to remain competitive, according to research from independent trade association Manchester Digital.

The annual Digital Skills Audit, which analyses data from over 250 companies in the region, revealed that 47% of companies had to inflate employee wages by an average of 10% for technical industry roles.

Such salary premiums have been widespread across the industry in recent years, as demand continues to outstrip supply for skilled talent.

Developer roles in particular saw a 16% pay rise; the highest level of inflation for the fifth year running. The figures are reflective of the fact that 49% businesses are finding developer roles the hardest to fill.

Digital marketing wages, meanwhile, increased by 11%, business developers by 9% and IT roles by 8%. These inflation rates remain common throughout the sector and the result of companies’ attempts to attract and retain the limited talent available during the ongoing skills shortage crisis.

Salary demand remains one of the main challenges facing businesses in terms of talent retention, with the ability to offer and support progression, and the growing threat of competitors poaching staff, also vital considerations for organisations across the region.

The audit also looked at which skillsets will grow in importance to businesses. Whilst developers came top of the list, the results also highlighted an increasing demand for experts in Artificial Intelligence and machine learning. One in six (12%) businesses stated that they are most in need of experts in this burgeoning field.

Katie Gallagher, managing director at Manchester Digital, said: “The North West is clearly a competitive and exciting place to do business, with growing numbers of companies choosing to establish themselves here.

“However, tech firms need skilled talent in order to succeed. It is therefore worrying that the results of our annual audit once again highlight a serious skills shortage that is affecting businesses across the region – and that so many are having to inflate wages in an attempt to rectify the issue. For many growing organisations, the financial drain this creates is unsustainable and may lead to larger problems in future.

“The solution to the skills shortage is not simple, so everybody must play their part. Education providers, policy makers and businesses themselves must join together to help plug critical skills gaps – many of which are getting wider every day.”

Via Prolific North.

Accessplanit secures new premises in the heart of Lancaster

Lancaster-based training software provider Accessplanit has secured new premises in the heart of the city.

The company, which has been boosted by a huge rise in profits over the past year, is moving to The Hub on Spring Garden Street.

The site was designed in collaboration with Whitespace to provide an attractive working environment comprising a breakout room, sweeping sofas and split-level amphitheatre-style seating.

Dave Evans, managing director at Accessplanit, said: “Our new office space reflects who we are here at Accessplanit; always looking for ways to improve and taking pride in what we do.

“With our new office space, we’ve created a fully functional area that helps our team to meet the needs of training providers around the world in a fresh and modern setting. The Lancaster technology scene is rapidly expanding, and Accessplanit is incredibly excited to play a major part in that growth.

“We’re absolutely committed to Lancaster and the local area, as we have been for almost 20 years. Part of our expansion plans include hiring and developing local talent – and so, just two months into the new year, I’m delighted to welcome three new members to the Accessplanit team who will help us deliver the best year yet for our customers.”

Via Insider Media.

Marketing Cheshire exec to head up Marketing Lancashire

Rachel McQueen, the former tourism director of Marketing Cheshire, has been appointed as the new chief executive of Marketing Lancashire.

McQueen spent a year at Marketing Cheshire, having joined from Marketing Manchester, where she was director of marketing and deputy chief executive.

“I’m delighted to have been given the opportunity to lead Marketing Lancashire and firmly believe that this organisation is one of the best-placed in the country, to set the standard for future Destination Management Organisations and for strategic place marketing,” she said.

“Previous leadership has clearly set the direction of travel and made significant ground and I am confident that my skills and experience will enable me to build on this success.”

The former marketing director of Hemisphere will take up the role in May.

“Rachel’s leadership qualities and extensive experience in place marketing and tourism in the North West, made her an ideal candidate for the role and for advancing our ambitions and plans for Lancashire. I’m very much looking forward to working with Rachel and embarking together on a number of significant projects for the county,” said Tony Attard OBE, Chair of the Board of Marketing Lancashire.

McQueen replaces Ruth Connor, who became director of strategic marketing at the University of Central Lancashire, earlier this year.

Via Prolific North