A North East college is joining forces with the country’s first emerging technology facility to develop the future digital workforce.

Gateshead College is officially partnering with neighbour PROTO to develop a new pipeline of digital skills, create commercial opportunities for local firms, drive inward investment and economic growth across key industry sectors, and retain the brightest minds in the region.

Deni Chambers, assistant principal at Gateshead College, said: “We’re catering for a workforce that doesn’t yet exist. Technology is moving at such a rapid rate that businesses themselves don’t even know what skills they’ll need in five years’ time.

“We’re working with industry to predict future trends and work out how technology can be applied in different commercial settings. That’s why our courses are always evolving and constantly being adapted to meet the changing needs of industry.”

The partnership will see the roll-out of an innovative new course that will prepare individuals for a career specialising in the use of emerging technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI). The two-year course will allow them to test how these technologies can be applied in the commercial sphere, not just in digital firms but also in other sectors such as healthcare, manufacturing, sports and performing arts.

Deni added: “This will give students a unique insight into how effectively new technologies work in different commercial settings. They’ll be able to work alongside cutting-edge businesses to test these technologies as they come on stream, gaining valuable work experience and a real insight into this faced-paced industry.

“All of our students will benefit from the partnership, not just those on the new course. Whether they are studying dance, sport, construction or healthcare and early years we’ll be working with PROTO to use digital technology in innovative ways and enhance their learning.”

Companies and students will also be able to use PROTO’s office space and a wide range of impressive digital equipment, including a photogrammetry rig with 120 cameras that can capture 3D objects from every angle – ideal for a manufacturer who wants to trial a new product. The facilities made a positive impression on Education Secretary Damian Hinds, who visited PROTO and Gateshead College on a recent fact-finding mission in the region.

Chris Pape of Gateshead Council, which owns and manages PROTO, said: “Kit like this is usually pretty expensive so it’s great that businesses can use it as and when they want to, and at a lower cost than anywhere else in the country. This allows start-ups and small firms to test and trial new concepts, explore digital solutions that might help their business without having to spend money unnecessarily.

“Our aim is to attract more businesses to the area and promote Gateshead as a great place to live and do business. Together with Gateshead College, we share a common goal of wanting to develop digital capabilities within companies and encourage young entrepreneurs to start a business here. To do that we need a good infrastructure and people with the right skills, and that’s where the college comes in.”

To find out more about Gateshead College and the courses on offer, visit: www.gateshead.ac.uk/employer