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Three takeaways from Manchester Digital’s 2019 skills festival



Earlier this week I spent the afternoon at Manchester Digital’s annual skills audit launch – part of its week-long annual skills festival – and I wanted to share some of the key points I took away from the event.

 

Want some insight into what's on the minds of the North West’s tech businesses? Brexit and brainpower…

 

Revealing the results of its latest audit at its Manchester Tech Incubator HQ on Monday afternoon, Manchester Digital reported that 37% of firms in the region had suffered a negative business impact from Brexit concerns over the past year. Additionally, growth slowdown was reported amongst tech firms across the North West, with just 54% reporting turnover growth this year compared to 83% in 2014 – much of this attributed to Brexit worries.

 

Skills also remained a top concern for digital businesses in the region, with almost a third having to turn away work as a result of not being able to find the right talent to fulfil it and 60% having to inflate salaries to compete for staff.

 

As someone that has been present at the skills audit reveal for the past few years, the skills issue is recurring; something which threatens to hamper the growth of the entire sector. And while there are a number of great initiatives now in place from lots of businesses and universities across the region to change this, the impacts of these efforts still haven’t been felt to their full extent yet. I think it will be another few years until the sector starts reaping the full rewards of these initiatives.

 

It’s worth mentioning here that we’re working closely with Manchester Digital to help the organisation shout about the work it does in the region, particularly around closing the skills gap. You can read more about Manchester Digital and check out the 2019 skills audit here: https://www.manchesterdigital.com/digital-skills-audit-2019

 

The robots are coming (but with the right prep, we shouldn’t be scared)

 

One of the most interesting talks of the day for me came from Matthew Gould, Director General from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. One of the topics he covered was the impending convulsion of the labour market as a result of AI advances. Matthew talked about a ‘serious displacement of people’ who are currently in what were previously thought of as ‘rock solid’ jobs.

 

This is the first time I have properly heard this being seriously acknowledged by someone in Government, which I thought was really refreshing. I agree with Matthew that this is going to be a huge issue and we should adequately prepare for it. Granted, it will be the monotonous, repetitive tasks in immediate danger, many of which have already gone.

 

To ensure that this doesn’t cause the catastrophe that many sensationalist headlines are currently “predicting”, I believe we now need to think carefully about those roles which are going to be harder to impact and consider how we can go about fostering skills and development in these areas. For me personally, this is where creative roles really come into their own - anything which requires creative thinking which can’t be done by an algorithm. I’m hoping this will lead to a bigger focus on creative and arts roles, something which was also echoed by Matthew, who emphasised the sector’s growth relies on these skills, as well as the more technical STEM ones.

 

The traditional ‘computer science’ degree taker stereotype is wrong, and corrosive

 

Sticking with the ever-apparent skills theme, my third key takeaway is something I’ve been discussing with various people for a while - and something Josh Smith from DEMOS made a very clear point of: the whole idea of what a ‘computer scientist’ is, is totally wrong. There are thousands of computer science degrees across various institutions in the UK – so why are we still suffering at the helm of a skills shortage?

 

Josh talked about the fact that many people have a singular view of what a job in computer science is, saying that the idea that technical skills are for certain types of people is bad. The idea that coders have to have a naturally brilliant technical mind is extremely corrosive. I’d agree that there are certain stereotypes attached to technical roles which are damaging for the talent pipeline. White man sat in a dark room behind a computer drinking red bull spring to mind?

 

I think the entire sector would benefit greatly from the removal of this stereotype. For me, it’s crucial to enhance the pipeline and get more people from diverse backgrounds to consider a role in the sector. For me, this starts with shouting about the huge breadth of roles available in the tech sector, and the fact that they aren’t only accessible if you have a technical background; whether you have a psychology background that would do you well in a user experience (UX) role, or a creative background which would work well in a game or app design role.

 

I really believe that in order to solve its talent pipeline issues, the tech sector needs to start pulling more on the talent pools of other sectors, as well as people from more diverse backgrounds - the UK’s fourth industrial revolution depends on it.

 

 

 

 

Tagged with: B2B PR agency Manchester , PR, PR agencies Manchester, PR Agency Manchester, PR Manchester, Public Relations, Public Relations North West, Tech PR Manchester agency, Tech PR. Digital PR

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