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The new Digital Garage on Pinstone Street
The new Digital Garage on Pinstone Street

Taking a look inside Google’s new digital garage

12 May 2017

Google’s new digital garage has only been open for a couple of weeks but it has already put hundreds of Sheffielders on the path to social media enlightenment.

Sheffield Newsroom went along to find out what the free tutorials are all about, and found it wasn’t the only one getting digital on its lunchtime.

It’s somewhat fitting that Google’s Digital Garage is based in the former Early Learning Centre building in Pinstone Street. Just two weeks after opening it’s first “high street” store offering free social media and digital classes, hundreds of people have ventured through its doors to get a 21st century education.

The building has been brilliantly refurbished with a number of familiar Google Doodle’s and an important nod to Sheffield – Henderson’s Relish wall-art. It’s an important point to make because Google’s Digital Garage are offering courses that are quintessentially Sheffield – and set-up to respond to the giant steps the city is making in the digital sector.

In last year’s tech City report, Sheffield and Rotherham were identified as one of 27 digital tech clusters in the UK, and used as a case study evidencing growth in the UKs digital tech economy.

In the report, there were 14,313 digital tech jobs in Rotherham and Sheffield pumping £273 million Gross Value Added (GVA) into the local economy.

Last year, the average salary a tech professional could expect in Sheffield was £42,058 – much higher than the average working salary in Sheffield of £26,141.

And recent research suggests a jobs boom in the digital sector in Sheffield – with positions available at a number of top firms including Plus Net, Zoo Digital, Kollider and Sky.

The city’s biggest tech firm, Plusnet, employs 1,200 and is advertising 28 jobs. It has moved into mobile and that arm of the business has grown 50 per cent in the first three months of this year.

Classes are held regularly as well as masterclasses and one-to-ones - all free.

Classes are held regularly as well as masterclasses and one-to-ones – all free.

Sheffield City Council and Google themselves acknowledge there is still more to be done to empower people to use the Internet and tackle the issues that prevent people from engaging with rapidly changing digital culture.

The council is encouraging everyone to take full advantage of this unique opportunity and seeing how Google can build even further on Sheffield’s reputation for growth, innovation and business success.

Sheffield Newsroom joined around 20 people for its social media for business course and was ushered into a comfy back area where the course was carried out on a range of laptops by our trainers Paul and Mae Ping.

Those on the course included those with little social media experience, those who had used it to grow their own online businesses and others who were using it to promote restaurants or services across the city.

They were all given a primer on how to launch a social media strategy which looked at Facebook, Twitter, Linked In and You Tube.

A nice nod to Henderson's in the new building

A nice nod to Henderson’s in the new building

It was pitched at just the right level, easy to follow and everyone took at least one kernel of digital knowledge away with them. Discussions continued well after the hour’s training session was up – with some people signing up to further one-to-ones and masterclasses.

Google’s Digital Garage will be in Sheffield for the next five months – and courses are still available. In the space of a lunch-hour, skills that are considered vital for the 21st century are discussed and delivered.

Sheffield has made great strides in developing its digital economy, following its world leading games and design development industries.

Last year, the council announced a substantial Chinese investment in the Digital Campus, to develop new technological businesses in Sheffield.

Edward Highfield, Director of City Growth at Sheffield City Council, said: “Sheffield has a strong tech and digital sector and this plays an important part in attracting and retaining talent within the city.

The new building

“We have some innovative support and accelerator growth programmes in Sheffield, which have contributed to the success of the sector in recent years; a trend that is set to continue with projects such as the Digital Campus underway.”

The Tech City report also highlighted the benefits of tech clusters within Sheffield and Rotherham, through responses from local digital and tech businesses that use them. Sixty-two per cent of people citing the commercial property that is available through tech clusters as a benefit to this working arrangement, 53 per cent noting business support and 67 per cent declaring graduate talent as a major benefit of working in a tech cluster.

Sheffield’s Electric Works is home to over 30 creative, digital, technology and media companies.

Adjacent to Electric Works, construction is underway for the next Phase of Sheffield Digital Campus.  The £20m new development will provide additional capacity for IT related and knowledge based industries and further enhance Sheffield’s reputation as a hub for technology businesses.

With all this digital development taking place, getting a free education in the skills needed to succeed and thrive at the Digital Garage  – well it’s a no-brainer.

Attendees can learn the vital skills needed to succeed in the digital age, from how to develop their web presence, grow their business or charities online, improve their career prospects or just build their confidence by using online tools for the first time.

More than 90 per cent of jobs will require digital literacy in the near future and according to the British Chambers of Commerce, 76 per cent of businesses in the UK say they have a shortage of digital skills in their workforce.

Respondents explained that reasons behind the gap included lack of time for staff training, difficulty in identifying appropriate training and the high costs of training at 32 per cent and 25 per cent respectively.

Similarly, another survey found that half of charities don’t have a digital strategy and 71 per cent of them rated their board’s digital skills as low or needs improvement.

Since setting up its first store in Leeds in 2015, Digital Garage has helped give more than 150,000 people across the country the digital skills to succeed, through pop ups in Glasgow, Birmingham, Newcastle, Manchester and Cardiff. This is the first time they have offered the service from a UK city high street.

The Google Digital Garage is being delivered in partnership with Sheffield City Council and local partners including The Good Things Foundation, a charity that supports the digitally and socially excluded to improve their lives through digital.

People can register for courses at g.co/SheffieldGarage or just pop-in for free advice.