Virtual reality boom paves way for new skills programme

Gateshead College has teamed up with Europe’s first virtual reality centre of excellence to launch a new skills programme that helps firms capitalise on the commercial power of emerging technologies.

The Level 3 programme in Virtual and Augmented Reality – the first of its kind in the UK – has been developed with Gateshead-based VRTGO Labs and aims to equip people with the skills and attributes needed to thrive in this growing industry. 

Established last year by Gateshead Council, VRTGO Labs is a growing cluster of around 30 like-minded firms that work together to develop commercial applications for emerging technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI). Seven of these firms are based at VRTGO Labs’ site at Baltimore House, located next to Gateshead College, and a new centre scheduled to open in the town next year will provide additional office space to cater for growing demand.

The programme will see students use game engines, 3D tools and other state-of-the-art technologies to develop unique content that can be placed into a virtual world to solve everyday problems, such as helping doctors to make a diagnosis without the need for invasive procedures or surgery. Students will also create augmented reality content – a combination of the virtual and real worlds – to benefit companies across a wide range of industry sectors.

Chris Toon, deputy principal at Gateshead College, said: “Gateshead College is playing a key role in developing the VR and AR cluster by helping companies acquire the skills needed to harness the commercial potential of these technologies. With the North East of England – and Gateshead in particular – fast becoming a UK hub for digital and tech firms, we've teamed up with some of the best creative organisations to ensure that our learning programmes give employers the best chance of recruiting the talent they need to develop their business.

“Our flexible courses at Gateshead College are driven by and tailored to the needs of industry. We have a proven track record of developing the skills that benefit employers and help students get a job.”   

VR and AR are part of a burgeoning tech industry that employs around 3,500 people and generates £135m of GVA (gross value added) to the Gateshead economy alone – and much more for the wider North East economy.

VRTGO Labs spokesperson Carri Cunliffe, whose company Secret Sauce provides consultancy services to the VR sector, says: “VR and AR are not just useful for the entertainment industry, they are a rich seam of potential for many other sectors including automotive, offshore energy and construction. 

“Companies are already gaining a competitive advantage by embedding VR and AR into their business but they will need new skills as these technologies evolve. The programme we’ve developed with Gateshead College is designed to address current skills gaps and is also flexible enough to be adapted to suit the future needs of this vitally important sector.”

Course details can be viewed here. For more information about the programme, call 0191 490 2246 or email start@gateshead.ac.uk.