It’s been a whirlwind couple of months for me working as the new head of talent and skills for Tech North.
I’ve now been from Liverpool to Newcastle and back again meeting with city leaders, training providers and digital companies who, it has to be said, are all now galvanised to address the UK’s skills challenges.
From the evidence I’ve gathered so far, it’s clear that we really need to understand: what we mean by digital skills; what skills people actually need to do current jobs on offer; how we measure or accredit digital training; what skills provision already exists and where; and, crucially, who funds it.
There are challenges everywhere facing potential employees and potential employers, from how kids, people in the workforce and older people get the skills they need and continue to update them, to what sounds like the simple issue of raising awareness of the digital jobs on offer.
Something that keeps coming up is the need for highly experienced people quickly. This isn’t necessarily something we can address right now simply by training or retraining local people.
With that in mind, Tech North is going to London’s Silicon Milkroundabout jobs fair this weekend, joined by a delegation of city leaders to showcase the top companies, top cities and top people in the North.
Having just moved back up from London myself – I’m a ‘boomerang’, if you will – I know that there’s growing appetite among northerners in London for more than a box room and a crammed-in commute. There are ‘pioneers’ too, people who’ve never lived in the North, but have heard rumour of plentiful cups of tea, great pies and lovely people who’ll talk to you on the train – all the time!
Joining us at #SMR12 are…
Liverpool is famous for its music, fashion and culture – it’s a place with spirit pride and passion. People feel at home there, and it’s easy to make one, as Liverpool’s residential property prices are around 15 percent lower than Manchester and 75 percent lower than London. It’s also one of the most visited cities in the UK, a top-five retail hub, a leading centre for tourism and was recently named number three in Rough Guide’s ‘50 things to do before you die’.
Joining us at Silicon Milkroundabout is full-service agency Amaze, which was formed 20 years ago inside the Learning Methods Unit at Liverpool John Moores University. Its founders saw a social and technological revolution on the horizon and began to study the increasingly complex relationship between human behaviour and technology.
The UK Powerhouse report puts Manchester in the top three fastest growing city economies in the UK, while Tech Nation says it has the largest tech cluster outside London, with nearly 52,000 employees. Particular growth areas are fintech, cybersecurity and ecommerce, with healthtech, edtech, design and gaming, transport, utilities, AI, VR and IoT not far behind.
From the Industrial Revolution to the birth of the computer, splitting the atom to discovering super-material graphene, Manchester has always had something to look forward to, and you could too.
Sheffield is the ‘Maker City’, where entrepreneurs, innovators, technologists, academics, musicians, artists and engineers collaborate and create together.
With more than half a million people, two world-class universities, award-winning theatres and festivals, charismatic neighbourhoods and the Peak District National Park on the doorstep, the city offers a perfect combination of city living, family life, outdoor adventure and rural escape. The city region also boasts 57 independent cask ale breweries!
Sheffield Digital is the organisation for businesses and individuals involved in Sheffield’s digital industries and it’ll be joined over the weekend by Tutora, one of edtech’s fastest growing startups, and the UK Government Home Office digital team.
Tutora is looking to hire for a number of key roles to help further scale its business, while the Home Office is hunting on behalf of the Ministry of Justice and other government departments that have recently relocated to Sheffield.
The Tees Valley is a hotbed for digital innovation and is widely recognised for punching well and truly above it’s weight locally, nationally and internationally. It is home to one of the world’s fastest growing tech companies, Visualsoft, a Tech North Northern Star in the form of Evaluagent, and countless other success stories, like LittleBigPlanet developer Double Eleven, and one of Automattic’s 12 WordPress VIP Partners in Big Bite Creative.
DigitalCity – born out of Teesside University – has spent the last 13 years supporting the digital and creative industries. It will be joined on the day by Cody, a spin out startup from Visualsoft’s Innovation Lab.
Just like an underground music scene, it’s the undiscovered talent that makes tech in a city special – and one corner of the UK has been quietly developing its reputation as the ‘indie capital’ of the creative sector. Newcastle and the wider North East digital creative community is tight-knit, keeps good company and is fiercely self-reliant. Although Northern Powerhouse is the buzzword, the most northerly region of England has been powering away, breaking the global market for years.
FTSE-listed Sage drives corporate tech employment in the area but Newcastle has produced upstarts like Smart Money People and Leaf.fm, both of which were finalists of the Tech North Northern Stars competition. Newcastle-based Moltin recently raised $2m from US VCs.
Today, automotive VR specialists ZeroLight and digital marketing agency Orange Bus are among the hidden gems that are on the hunt for experienced technical people.
There’s good business support from the co-working space Campus North, the angel-led accelerator programme Ignite and venture capital firm Northstar Ventures, which has over £95 million under management.
The wider ecosystem includes Dynamo North East, The North East Technology Fund and Newcastle Science Central’s office spaces, called The Core. Digital Union, Newcastle’s tech community cluster organisation, is now a growing collective of some of the most successful and innovative creative digital companies in the world, never mind the UK – they just happen to be based in the North East.