Phil Clark is Chairperson of Community Interest Company (CIC) TechSolent which focuses on connecting, developing and promoting technology companies within the Solent region for the public benefit. They do this through building a network of technology professionals to address societal problems, educate the community on technology initiatives, and combine these things to deliver economic development within the Solent region. In this interview we find out more from Phil.
I’ve been working within procurement for eight years, and before that worked within some of the major technology brands. To develop my procurement network, I joined the CIPS South of England branch and became involved in local events and am currently Treasurer. I decided to build a similar community for the technology sector and created ‘South Hants IT’ to enable like-minded professionals to come together to talk about technology.
In parallel, TechSolent was created, which was a community of professionals forged with the aim to help the regional economy drive education, jobs, equality and inclusion. However due to Covid, the vision stalled, so in mid-2020 I approached TechSolent and the two organisations merged. TechSolent now has over 500 members with a regular agenda of monthly events and webinars on key technology topics.
We’re a Not For Profit based CIC, staffed by volunteers, with a focus on helping local education establishments to drive technology and digital skills into the region and we do this through linking these organisations with our professional network. We work with organisations like the Solent Institute of Technology (IOT) which represents 10 local schools and colleges in the Solent area and the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to support broader institutions. Our vast community of IT businesses offer real world work experience opportunities for students studying IT at school / college, helping them to gain vital skills utilising technology in real life settings and improving their employability prospects.
The TechSolent network also work with schools and colleges to enhance their curriculum development. We facilitate lecturers and teaching staff to visit local tech companies with the aim of raising awareness of how course content can be practically applied to business. We’re actively involved in steering committees focused on course design, helping shape the curriculum to ensure that IT courses equip students with the technical and personal skills that will help them succeed in their career. For example, in some colleges we’ve been collaborating with, the courses now include the development of softer skills such as communication techniques as a key learning focus.
In addition, TechSolent also advise on county strategy around digital/technology services and skills and how they can be adopted in the public sector. We’ve started working with local government on the Future of Work – considering factors such as how does remote working apply to jobs, what does the future look like for adopting digital services within other industries etc.
In our first year of formal trading, we have worked with local colleges who have managed to identify about 20 work placements for their students, primarily in the new Digital T-Level space. The lecturers like the engagement with a central body like TechSolent as it reduces the number of contacts they have to make, and also they can rely on the TechSolent experts to help students understand different career directions or job roles within technology.
Another example of the work we’ve done is the creation of a simple 30 minute video for students to understand what “Digital Transformation” means to real world organisations, which was used as part of student research / homework for their courses. The “additional learning” module was for the student to watch Ready Player One, to help them appreciate what a future world with technology could look like (if unchecked!). Students loved this one!
One other area of impact has been focused on educating parents about the different areas of IT that their child can explore, to give them greater work opportunities for the future. For example, at one event at Fareham College, we managed to reframe every student’s ‘ideal IT training’ perspective from a singular focus on gaming to a broader IT focus.
It’s been getting the brand to a position where people recognise it. We’ve attracted enough people and made enough noise to get local government and other institutions to approach us and ask for our help. This has been achieved by consciously developing our network. We’ve proactively looked for contacts in influential organisations, such as the IOT, and we have reached out to the (LEP). We’ve also targeted district/county/borough councils. In doing this we’ve developed a strong network of people and are working with them to help them drive the right behaviours in technology. Our mission is to raise the profile of technology and work with education establishments to ensure that their students leave with the skills to succeed and consequently have a positive impact on the region.
It varies depending on workloads and projects, but probably around 4 hours per week, usually in evenings and weekends. It’s entirely voluntary and it’s great to spend time with like-minded people doing like-minded things. Members usually spend an hour or so a month on activities or events.
A big focus for us is understanding what our partners are measured by and supporting them in delivering their objectives. We also want to increase our reach and impact. The KPIs we are looking at are focused on encouraging as many of the tech businesses in our area (around 7,000) and individuals working in IT (22,000) to be aware of what we do and engage with us. The successful adoption and placement of students going through T levels into work is also a key metric. If we can facilitate growth in these areas over the coming months and years that will be a great indicator that our strategy is on the right track.
Please do get in touch if you’re an IT professional in the Solent region and you share our vision. You can go to the website www.TechSolent.org to find out more about what we do and subscribe. Or please reach out directly to me on LinkedIn.