For most people, the word "innovation" probably conjures up developments in the latest digital technologies. From AI to analytics, and from cognitive computing to driverless cars, all these are at the cutting edge of innovation. They’re changing the world in which we all live and work. But the term innovation also describes a much broader idea beyond specific technologies. Here in the north of England, as far back at least as the industrial revolution, innovation has been the spirit that inspires and drives our region. And it’s a spirit that will be showcased at its best at The Great Exhibition of the North this summer which we’re proud to be a premier partner of.
At Accenture, that innovative spirit is our lifeblood too. As a business, we’re committed to changing the way that the world works and lives. That commitment is particularly evident in our business in Newcastle. We now have more than 1,100 people working in Newcastle, including over 800 at our UK Advanced Technology Centre in the city’s Cobalt Business Park. That’s also home to an innovation team focused on developing proofs of concepts and demonstrating the latest technologies to clients. These include exploring how artificial intelligence can transform the real-world capabilities of different industries; for example how financial institutions make decisions for mortgage applications.
We are proud to be playing our part in building a world-beating local economy. Innovation is at the heart of that. One of the most exciting aspects of this is the combination and interplay of different sectors. Of course, technology is at the heart of Accenture’s business. But the incredibly exciting developments that we’re seeing across many different fields—from art and theatre to science and design—all contribute to the development of an energetic and creative region that really deserves the title of Northern Powerhouse. And that for me sums up the potential that we can harness here in the North East. We don’t see innovation as an activity that’s confined to the testing lab. Instead, it’s all about making innovation part of how every business approaches everything they do to make real changes that improve everybody’s lives and drive growth.
But we’re also acutely aware that building the innovative economy of tomorrow requires us to invest in the talent that can get us there. Back in 2013, the North East was where we started our first ever Accenture technology apprentices. The programme has now helped more than 150 young people complete a degree in software engineering alongside on-the-job, practical experience. And graduates from the programme are offered a job at Accenture. Overall, our focus on driving employment opportunities has increased the size of our North East workforce two-fold.
To be successful, innovation also has to be inclusive. One of our biggest areas of focus is to make sure that we expand the talent pool, particularly by addressing the stereotypes and misperceptions around careers in technology. That’s particularly relevant to engage the interest of more girls. We’re working with local primary schools on a number of activities that aim to show girls the possibilities that STEM subjects can open up for them. We want to make sure that everybody gets the chance to participate in the exciting, thriving North-East economy that we are committed to playing a major role in developing.
Driving the Northern Powerhouse forward requires all of us—business, education, and government—to work together and bring all our talents to the table. I’m very excited by the progress we’ve already made in the North East. But it’s just the start. The Great Exhibition of the North will be a chance for all of us to experience this region’s innovation at first hand—and the future that we can all build for ourselves.