Digital Futures - Manchester Digital's 'Tech Talents Schools Engagement Program' for educators and careers advisors


As longstanding members of Manchester Digital, I was more than happy to support their 'Tech Talents Schools Engagement Program' by speaking to educators and careers advisors from Wigan and Bolton. The 'discover digital careers' insights and awareness session was held at Wigan and Leigh College, facilitated by Natasha Kitchen from Manchester Digital and included presentations from ourselves, as a local technology business, and Drshna Vara CEO at EQ, a Bolton based digital agency.

Natasha opened by explaining the challenges the digital and creative sector faces, specifically the identified skills gap. Then highlighting the opportunities this brings for school leavers and graduates both through formal education but also more recent routes such as digital apprenticeships and various 'learn as you earn' schemes where training is part classroom and part experiential. She also demonstrated a huge list of potential employers, mostly in Manchester, where some big players have opened new offices and are recruiting feverishly - Amazon, GCHQ, Hewlett Packard, Sainsburys and MoneySuperMarket to name but a few. This is alongside the existing tech community and employers in hotspots like Media City and the science parks, a vibrant digital agency scene and numerous incubator and colab spaces. Added to this, many traditional businesses are trying to recruit in-house technologists as there can hardly be a sector left that doesn't have some kind of technology need to either develop or support business systems as well as digital marketing.

Demand for skills has never been higher and where that demand can't be met, as with all markets, this creates a vacuum which has led employers to offer ever more incentive laden and attractive packages from salaries and benefits, to flexibility and environments. Despite offering fantastic roles and remuneration, many large companies have lists of open positions they just can't fill. Sadly, this market has also seen a rise in the parasitical practices of unscrupulous recruiters, who can charge 15%, 20% and even 25% of base salaries as fees, and then re-approach their clients a few months later with a new offer. 

At over 12% a year, Digital is the fastest growing sector in the UK economy which, combined with all the factors above, mean that the situation is only get harder for businesses. Conversely, that does mean there are more and better opportunities for the practitioners of the future - the school kids and the undergraduates, a fact today's attendees will hopefully take back into their respective roles to 'stoke the fires'.

As an employer who is constantly challenged by the skills gap - perhaps better referred to as the skills war - we work very hard on every aspect of employment. This starts with an embedded culture of learning and innovation as we invest heavily in our team whether by formal training, such as Chartered Institute of Marketing Diploma, ITIL, Prince 2 or software vendor training, to attending events such as Umbraco's Codegarden in Denmark, national events such as the Festival of Marketing as well as regional ones and overseas study trips. We're very flexible and accommodate easy-come easy-go hours as well as remote working - as I write our Development Director is working remotely in Thailand for 3 months. A key factor in job satisfaction is the work itself, which is stimulating and often completely bespoke for leading UK businesses and global clients. Then there's all the nice things, obviously remuneration and pensions are a given but we add a package including Private Health, Cycle to work schemes with showers at work, fruit baskets, fresh coffee and free lunch everyday.

Finally, as that same employer who is constantly challenged by the skills war, I believe it's disingenuous to moan about it and then not take any opportunities to do something about it when they occur. For me, that's usually been through giving talks at schools and colleges, work placements for undergraduates or setting and critiquing briefs for students, so it was great to be able to encourage the educators and careers advisors who, in turn, can encourage their charges to get into digital.


Will Bentley