There's a certain kind of symmetry in that, on the same day bd2 was advising the designers of tomorrow at Standish High School's Mock Interview Conference, we were also attending Manchester Digital's Skills Festival debating the shortage of skills needed today. So, whilst I was at the DW Stadium carrying out mock interviews with year 11 students just starting to make their career choices, our office manager Bryony was at The Lowry Hotel for Manchester Digital's Skills Conference.

"The Digital Skills Festival 2018, organised by Manchester Digital, is a really well organised event with talks and panels from some industry leaders, futurists and the results of the Digital Skills Audit. The event focused on discussing ways to combat the ongoing digital talent gap in the North West, somewhat exacerbated by big companies relocating outside of London (10% of these companies relocating to the North West) to escape the impossible recruitment situation. The Skills Audit carried out by Manchester Digital demonstrated that the problem is showing no signs of slowing, and that 77% of companies in the North West had seen a slow down in growth in 2017 as a direct result of talent. As new technologies and roles are created in our fast paced industry this skills crisis is only going to worsen.There are many attempts to address the issue, such as The Institute of Coding who are, in collaboration with Manchester Metropolitan University, working hard to create relevant and focused academic training including a new Software Development Graduate Apprenticeship Program (Level 6) starting in Sept 2018, as well various forms of financial support. However, as Manchester Digital’s Managing Director Katie Gallagher (who headed up the event) pointed out - 'even though £2 million has been pledged by Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham to help combat the digital skills gap, this is not nearly enough to solve the problem.'

The key message that echoed throughout the day was that industry has to work together and lead the way in tackling the digital skills gap, which John Harvey, Delivery Manager at Moneysupermarket, predicts will reach 300,000 positions by 2020."

Bryony Wright, Office Manager bd2.

I think it's the fifth time we've been to Standish High's Mock Interview Conference which is aimed at helping Year 11's with their career choices. However, unlike the usual careers day events, the school has gone the extra mile by creating an event which gives their students a taste of the real world. Organising the event must be a big investment for the school, in time and no doubt expense, but it has to be said that it's all handled very effectively and efficiently.

First off, it's not on school premises. This would be the easier and cheaper option, but by using another venue it creates a genuine real world experience for the students. As well as the environment, the formality of the day is enhanced by asking students to dress for interview, so everyone arrives suited and booted. The way the event itself is organised is also very structured with allotted interview times, which, it should be noted, were all kept with military precision. Students have to prepare by submitting their CVs in advance. The interviews themselves are all carried out within an open lounge but with each employer sat behind a desk and the interviewees led in by a team of year 10 helpers.

The interviews were undertaken by around thirty or so businesses drawn from all kinds of industries and sectors - my desk was next to a soldier, opposite Chris Alcock from CMA accountants and to his side, a sports scientist. Each of us had around a dozen twenty minute interviews with students interested in pursuing careers in our respective industries. In my case, this was a series of very impressive and talented individuals who could all, I'm sure, pursue careers in the creative sector. Inevitably there was a little nervousness with a few, but overall I was very impressed by their confidence and interpersonal skills, which made it very easy to chat through their work and the things they need to consider in terms of further education and employability. I encouraged all of them to immerse themselves in all things creative - keep scrapbooks and sketchbooks; experiment with all forms of design; experience as much as possible - online, film, books, galleries, studios, universities and practitioners. The North West is a real hotbed of creativity with some real centres of excellence in Manchester and Liverpool, which are just a short train ride away.

A lot of credit has to go to the school for the way it organises the event and the effort it goes to, not least in getting local businesses to give up their time to support the event. Whilst some businesses might find it difficult to give up a whole day, and I have to admit it's disruptive for a small business, but I personally feel that it's a bit hypocritical to go to events such as the Digital Skills Conference and moan about the shortage of talent and skills and then not take up any opportunity you have to address it. Whilst some of the students I met yesterday might choose alternative careers, and it will be a few years before they reach the workplace, I'd endorse the advice from Manchester Digital event that industry needs work with academia, at all levels, to encourage talent and shape the skills agenda.