North East businesses are accelerating #DigitalTransformation in response to the pandemic and the leading regional college @GatesheadColl is already ahead of the curve providing the skilled talent to deliver that drive.

Gateshead College anticipated the growth in demand for digital and tech skills long-before the coronavirus outbreak struck and 12 months ago established a unique partnership with PROTO, the first digital production facility of its kind in Europe.

Since it opened, young people across the region have been able to work with new technology as it emerges - alongside leading tech-based start-ups.

In the first year, 400 students from a wide range of courses including healthcare, performing arts, dance, education and sport have been able to develop their digital skills that not only help their career opportunities but also provide an asset to employers and their growth plans too.

Deni Chambers, assistant principal at Gateshead College, said:

“Our partnership with PROTO has opened a door to huge opportunity for all our students, irrespective of course. Digital technology and related skills are embedded across our curriculum so all students - whether they’re studying health and social care, dance or construction - have access to the latest technology and digital resources, equipping them with vital work ready skills for the future.”

Health and social care students used virtual reality (VR) to examine internal organs. They were able to virtually and visually compare a set of healthy lungs to those from a patient with lung disease, and also look at the impact that a cardiac arrest has on a heart making their learning more immersive and interesting.

Sports science students also made the most of PROTO’s motion capture technology. After recording an athlete undertaking a personal training session, they were then able to analyse athletic performance, technical expertise and use the data to assess potential rehabilitation issues. When schools, colleges and businesses were told to close their doors in late March, the college switched to remote teaching to ensure learning continued. Students have still had access to the PROTO facilities and experts from the businesses who work there via virtual technology.

Chambers continued: “During lockdown, two of our students completed a virtual placement and developed an augmented reality (AR) video game, supported by digital production firm Infinity27. The lockdown has not affected the numerous local businesses keen to offer our students a permanent role once they finish their course.”

Dan Baird, managing director at Infinity27, said:

“Working virtually within a demanding agile team alongside professionals at Infinity27, Gateshead College students were able to utilise their learning to develop a fully-functional game prototype while also demonstrating a growth mindset and a drive for personal and professional development.

"The results of this talent development exercise were so mutually beneficial that the students, the college and ourselves are looking to continue this relationship through a higher digital apprenticeship that will continue to provide value to the business.”

As PROTO is situated next to the college’s Baltic campus, once the college fully reopens for the new academic year, students can begin to physically access the facility again, enabling in person contact that will complement the college’s remote learning provision and apprenticeship support.

Chris Pape of Gateshead Council, which owns and manages PROTO, added:

“The North East is home to one of the most vibrant and innovative creative clusters outside of London and our immersive technology businesses continue to create world class content. To fuel future growth and help attract more great businesses to the region it is vitally important that we have a sustainable supply of skilled developers at all levels.

"Working closely with Gateshead College is an investment in the region’s future, a way to fuel future business growth and ensure our residents can thrive within local businesses. After a year working closely with the college, we are already starting to see the results with students being snapped up by businesses on Baltic Quarter.”

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