The Man Who Is Building a City; MIKE HUGHES Meets ROB EARNSHAW, the Man Tasked with Uniting and Focussing the Vast Digital Potential of Teesside

Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England), January 30, 2017 | Go to article overview

The Man Who Is Building a City; MIKE HUGHES Meets ROB EARNSHAW, the Man Tasked with Uniting and Focussing the Vast Digital Potential of Teesside


Byline: MIKE HUGHES meets ROB EARNSHAW

THE name is its own description.

Digital City suggests a widelyspread community that certainly lives in the same place, but is perhaps challenged to operate as a single machine rather than as individual parts.

Teesside's own Digital City is a business support programme run by 29-year-old Rob Earnshaw and is a hugely valuable brand for the region's future plans.

Fed by the boundless skills, resources and capabilities of Teesside University, it is being used to spread the word about how the region is not only producing some of the most cutting-edge digital technology, but is also working with firms to help them make the most of that technology.

Rob's job is to make that circuit seamless, and visible as a beacon from anywhere in the world.

Even at only 29, it is not his first major role, as he told me at his offices inside the Phoenix Building at the university.

"When I was 17 or 18, I was working as an actor in London and soon discovered I wasn't the best one in the world," he admits.

"But I had become very good at helping other young actors get into the industry, so I created a directory of more than 70,000 other young actors across the UK, who went on to get auditions and work on the likes of War Horse and Wuthering Heights.

"It had become clear that it was very difficult for a young person to get work if they didn't have an agent, but very hard for them to get an agent if they didn't have work."

The next logical move from the directory was for Rob to do the casting himself, which in turn led to him setting up the National Youth Film Academy, all the time developing that keen eye for talent and latent potential that would serve him so well when he came back to the North-east and started to help young businesses.

"I was still frustrated because it was going very well, showcasing people's talents, but I wanted to make sure they got jobs. So I managed to convince the Skills Funding Agency to give me a large sum of funding to start an apprenticeship programme, and in four years we got almost 300 people into film jobs."

The story sounds more promising for Teesside the closer he gets to Woodlands Road.

Actor, agent, casting director, apprenticeship provider and then job-finder, each time honing more skills that would be valuable to Digital City. It was time to focus on the region he knew best.

"I was getting lots of people from London, bringing them up to the North-east to train them and then they were going back down to London, so I started a campaign called Creative North to stop the brain drain of young talent away from the region. That was topped off with a campaign called Get Digital, where we created 90 apprenticeship jobs.

"Then I came to the university and met Jane Turner (Pro Vice-Chancellor for Enterprise and Business Engagement) and she was so ambitious. I saw the potential of the digital cluster and asked Jane when she wanted it to start having the national recognition it deserved and she said 'yesterday' so I said 'I want this job.'"."

The Digital City operation is cofunded by the university and the Combined Authority, allowing Rob to represent the wider region, but with some pretty hefty support behind him. …

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