Research 04.10.21

National Digital Skills for Health Project launches at UTC Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park

A national project to equip young people with the digital skills to excel in health and sport science careers has officially launched in Sheffield.

The Digital Skills for Health Project focuses on ensuring that students and staff at UTCs across the country have the latest technology skills that employers in the health and sport science sectors need.

UTC Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park is spearheading the two-year project, which has been initiated by the Baker Dearing Educational Trust – the driving force behind University Technical Colleges (UTCs).

Education and industry experts attended the official launch of the project in person and virtually at UTC Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park on 1 October 2021.

Lord Baker, Founder and Chair of the Baker Dearing Trust, and who officially launched the project, said: “Health is going to be a massive employer in the future, and this just doesn’t mean nurses and doctors. It means paramedics, health engineers and, above all, people with digital skills.”

He explained: “The NHS needs digitally competent technicians to help train staff to cope with the enormous amount of patient information which they now have.  There is a staff shortage of over 100,000. In response to this crisis, this year five UTCs have launched a new health specialism which brings our number dealing with health up to 13.”

UTCs are government funded technical schools that provide academic and technical qualifications to match the skills needs of regional employers. Sheffield has two UTCs.

The project will gather research from industry experts and lead to a new set of digital competencies and curriculum content for sixth form students studying healthcare, health sciences and sport science.

A professional development programme will also be developed for teachers.

Students and teachers at UTCs across the country offering computing and health sciences technical specialism are set to benefit from the initiative. The project is being backed by Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Sheffield Hallam University’s Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre, Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park, Health Education England, Pearson and STEM Learning – the National STEM Learning Centre in York.

Jess Stevenson, Principal, UTC Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park, commented: “We are delighted to lead the national Digital Skills for Health Project that will provide UTC students with the latest knowledge and technical expertise, highly sought after by employers, and boost their career prospects.”

Kirsten Major, Chief Executive, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Ensuring we equip young people with the digital skills they need to excel in the fields of health and science is critical and this development is an exciting step forward, which we are delighted to be part of.”

Professor Robert Copeland, Director of the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University, added: “Digital technologies already provide the platform for so many of the services that are delivered across the health and care sector and this will only accelerate over the next decade. The same is true in elite sport, where data drives performance.”

He continued: “The Digital Health project, led by our Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park neighbours at the UTC, will ensure that the next generation of innovators, researchers and practitioners across health and sport not only have the skills to work within these sectors but can shape them – driving improvement in outcomes for patients and performers across the UK.”

Dave Farrell, Head of the Digital Readiness Programme, Health Education England, said: “Health Education England are pleased to be a partner in this exciting new Digital Skills for Health Project which will help to equip sixth form students with the skills and experience needed to begin their careers. We hope that many of these students will consider the NHS, where digital skills are increasingly essential in all roles, as a future employer.”

The UTC is based on Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park where it benefits from close connections with the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre. Future facilities, including the National Centre for Child Health Technology and Canon Medical’s AI diagnostic imaging lab and research centre, will provide further links into the future of digital health. The Park is fast becoming a world class hub for health and wellbeing innovation making it an ideal environment to base the Digital Skills for Health Project.

At UTC Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park, which is Ofsted graded ‘good’, students complete GCSEs and A Levels as well as technical qualifications in computing, health sciences or sport science. Students also work on employer-led projects to develop the skills related to their subject specialism.

One sport science student who has benefited from the UTC’s academic and technical curriculum is Kate Parkin, 18, who wants to become a physiotherapist and has progressed to the University of Leeds after achieving top grades in her technical qualification as well as two A Levels this summer.

She said: “The UTC strongly encourages students to gain experience of working with employers in industry, which helped me with my schoolwork. I’m grateful that the UTC provided me with a foundation in sport that has prepared me for my future career.

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