Encouraging the digital and creative skills of the future


Whenever you attend any creative or digital sector event, speakers invariably mention the skills gap. Even if the event isn't about the subject, such as the Manchester Digital Fintech Forum I went to recently, and if it isn't mentioned on stage, the chat in the networking sessions always seems to come back to it. It's a constant subject in the trade press and within the online forums who have hyped it up as the 'skills war' as agencies and Tech Cos vie for the services of the digitally talented.

It’s a problem that's not exclusive the the creative and digital sector of course, as affects any business needing digital skills, which is, let’s face it, is pretty much everyone these days. In our own, relatively small but perfectly formed business, we’ve always found it challenging to find the right people with the right skillset and put an enormous amount of effort into both recruitment and retention.

The demand for digital skills sometimes feels overwhelming with seemingly weekly announcements about another technology business opening or relocating to Manchester - KPMG, HPE, Sainsburys, Rentalcars, UKFast and GCHQ are just a few from the last few months, each looking to recruit hundreds of technical and creative roles. The numbers are staggering:

  • 80,000 unfilled digital roles
  • 1 Million unfilled jobs in IT by 2020 [recent IBM survey]
  • 70% shortage of digital skills in large businesses
  • 50% shortage of digital skills in small businesses
  • 1000 new creative sector jobs every week

Given all these statistics and factors, I think it's a bit disingenuous for agency owners to moan about the skills gap and then not take up any opportunities they have to do something about it. Over the years, I’ve been happy to give talks at various local schools and colleges, conduct mock interviews, set briefs, critique work, talk to educators and take dozens of under graduates on placements. It's immensely rewarding to see these students make progress and move into employment. Earlier this year I was delighted to attend the degree show of Bethan Potter, who graduated with a first in Graphics from Huddersfield University and who undertook a year long work placement at bd2. I was equally delighted to provide a reference for the position she's just secured at ESSA Foundation Academies Trust as a Graphic Design and Marketing Officer, proving that the effort is worth it.

We continue to do what we can and have just signed up to take a Wigan College undergraduate on a 12 month placement based on a couple of days a week in the studio, as part of a trial for the new 'T Levels' which seem like an excellent initiative to combine study with practice and is the kind of approach I've been saying academia needs to adopt for many years. And this week and last, I've been happy to give a couple of careers talks at Standish High School, which is very proactive so I’ve tried to support their industry initiatives over a few years. It's just an hour or so and I've simply tried to convey the opportunities, the broad range of them and the possible riches that await as demand far exceeds supply driving up pay levels. Above all, I try to enthuse them about a career in digital and creative, always finishing on one of my favourite quotes:

"I work because I love it. Then it doesn't feel like work."


Footnote: I thought long and hard before adding this, but I have to comment that my experiences with academia have been very mixed and sometimes mind-bogglingly so. Whilst the good ones are great and the teachers or lecturers very proactive [David Beattie and Mark Malone take a bow], I’ve found it very difficult to engage with several establishments even with live job opportunities. By way of an example we recently contacted two local college as as we were trying to recruit a videographer. One failed to respond, the other failed to get back to me despite promising to. It’s a very frustrating disconnect where the talent is there, and looking for jobs, and we’re looking to recruit them.


Will Bentley