Businesses and young people in areas of Britain are falling into a ‘digital postcode lottery’ trap, according to GAIN LINE.
The digital operations consultancy says low numbers of apprenticeship opportunities are causing areas including the North East and East Midlands to fall behind.
It is calling for more to be done for disproportionately affected areas as businesses outside of London are 20% less likely to receive funding towards digital projects.
Analysis of Apprenticeships.org’s digital apprenticeship vacancies revealed that more than 40% of the vacancies were located in London and the South East.
As businesses across the country strive to move towards digital operations due to the lure of lower costs and higher efficiency, many rely on the fresh outlook and new technical skills that come from hiring apprenticeships.
The North East received just 4% of new starters in 2021, with the East Midlands at 6%.
“Developing digital skills in young people is crucial for their future careers,” said Jonathan Ward of GAIN LINE. “As well as being necessary for personal progression, bringing in younger generations helps to keep businesses fresh with new outlooks and new technical skills.”
Innovate UK grants
As well as looking at how SMEs in these areas are missing out on up-and-coming talent from apprenticeships, GAIN LINE also looked at Innovate UK’s Smart Grants distribution, which offers successful applicants a share of up to £25 million for digital innovation projects that can benefit the UK economy.
This data revealed the same digital divide that was found with apprenticeship opportunities. Of those grants awarded over the last year, more than a third were awarded to organisations in London and a sixth of grants to the South East.
Comparatively, just 2% were awarded to businesses in the North East and 6% to East Midland firms.
“The distribution of the sources in our research paints an accurate picture of the digital divide we currently have in Britain,” said Ward. “While the South and larger cities are thriving in terms of technology and innovation, business owners in the North East, East Midlands and more rural locations are missing out.
“We need better messaging about digital opportunities targeting those areas, as well as funding initiatives.
“Rural commercial properties are much more affordable than their city-centre equivalents, which could be attractive to small business owners looking to keep overheads down. However, lack of apprenticeships, lower opportunities for digital grants, and slower internet speeds make it difficult for businesses to thrive.
“It’s a missed opportunity for both the smaller businesses and the local economies, which could greatly benefit from attracting more small businesses to the area.”