With demand for digital skills increasing by 36% in the last 12 months, digital upskilling in schools, colleges and businesses will be key to Chesterfield thriving post pandemic. That was the message from leaders at this year’s Chesterfield and North Derbyshire Employability and Skills Conference.

At the virtual, live-streamed conference, it was revealed that the pandemic has brought digital skills to the forefront of work and education and opened up a number of exciting new employment opportunities in the low carbon economy.

Leaders speaking at the fifth annual conference stressed that collaboration between education providers and businesses is key to young people taking advantage of these opportunities post 16 and thriving in the workforce post pandemic.

Speaking at the conference Rachel Quinn, Head of People and Skills at D2N2 LEP (pictured) said: “Covid has given us the impetus to push forward to use and develop technology to connect people and work better. However, we have to make sure that everyone can participate and make sure the connectivity exists and that everyone has the digital access and skills they need to succeed and thrive. Getting that connectivity right, for the economy and through into our education system is absolutely essential.”

Chesterfield College reported growth in the demand for digital skills in the area and has invested in a digital skills centre. James Lund, Interim Director of Sales at The Chesterfield College Group said: “Apprentice recruitment is starting to return to pre-Covid levels, and we anticipate digital skills being a growth area over the next two to three years. Similarly, we have also seen a growth in demand for apprenticeships in health and social care and construction.”

To ensure young people maximise the opportunities, headline speaker, author and former headteacher, Richard Gerver urged the conference to “look to our inner child in order to succeed and thrive in a post pandemic workforce.”

He said: “By changing our mindset and encouraging people to meet change and uncertainty with curiosity, awe, wonder and questioning rather than fear, young people will see the opportunities rather than obstacles.”

He warned of the long-term impact of change and uncertainty on the self-esteem of young people and urged people to remember the importance of softer skills alongside technical skills.

Mr Gerver added: “Covid has been the most horrific experience in most people’s lived experience but it won’t be the first or last time we have to cope with profound levels of change in our personal lives. All too often our reflex when dealing with a problem is to go direct to the technical or strategic solution, but we need to understand the human first and that has never been more true than it is now, particularly when thinking about our future workforce.

“Dialogue between educators and businesses is more important than ever to support young people with career development. Real partnership is the key to success.”

Councillor Amanda Serjeant, Deputy Leader of Chesterfield Borough Council and Vice Chair of Destination Chesterfield reassured the conference that the council is committed to partnership working in order to ensure the future workforce have the post pandemic skills required by local employers.

She explained: “We’re not standing still in Chesterfield. We and our partners recognise that with change comes innovation and with challenge comes resilience. Building resilience and raising the aspirations of future generations is a priority for Chesterfield.

“Our aim is to continue to strengthen links between education providers and local businesses to ensure that our school and college leavers have the skills to access career opportunities available in the borough.”

The annual, free Chesterfield and North Derbyshire Employability and Skills Conference is organised by Chesterfield Borough Council, D2N2 North Derbyshire Careers Hub, and Destination Chesterfield, and is open to businesses, schools and education providers from across North Derbyshire.