The Northern Digital Jobs Strategy: plugging the skills gap

24 Jan, 2018

Tech North and EY are launching the Northern Digital Jobs Strategy, a plan to eradicate the North’s digital skills crisis.

The ‘digital skills crisis’ is never far from the headlines in most digital economies across the world today. Companies in the UK say they need ‘talent’ more than anything else to help them grow – and they needed it yesterday. The full strategy contains 8 recommendations designed to increase supply of digital tech talent.

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Quantifying the skills gap

In 2017 there were 168,671 digital tech jobs, whilst 712,750 individual digital tech jobs were advertised in across the Northern economy in the three years to 2018. On average there are around 1.4 job adverts for every digital tech worker per year across the region. This represents huge demand for digital tech workers, and is the highest seen across the entire Northern economy.

Whilst this represents a huge challenge, it is also a moment of opportunity. Digital tech roles in the North pay on average 48% more than the wider economy – a great reason to upskill workers in this area. The North is also home to seven of the most cost-effective places to live and work in tech when it comes to the cost of living and salaries paid.

In terms of the wider economy, productivity in Northern tech is growing four times faster. This is welcome news given the ongoing concern over the UK’s productivity levels.

The Strategy

The following eight initiatives have been devised to solve the skills crisis across the region:

  • A Northern Digital Skills Network to connect, coordinate and drive digital skills activity in the North, in line with the Digital Skills Partnership agenda
  • The Northern Digital Jobs Portal to drive employers with opportunities, and learners with availability, into one place
  • Careers advice so that, no matter what your age, you know there are opportunities in digital
  • Making digital mainstream in schools so that the ‘digital skills crisis’ fixes itself long-term
  • Encouraging those from underrepresented groups into the digital sector
  • The Apprenticeship Levy as a catalyst for changing our attitudes to employability, as well as ensuring that other types of training still count
  • A Northern digital jobs awareness campaign to drive people to seek out training and jobs opportunities in the North
  • Prioritise skilling up our local workforce to deal with the potential effects of Brexit

All of the above initiatives were developed with attendees at the 2017 Digital Jobs Action Summit. Discussing the initiatives, EY Senior Partner Bob Ward believes major labour market change is on the horizon:

The report indicates the beginnings of potentially radical changes in where the North’s future employment growth will come from. The digital revolution continues apace with marked changes to the makeup of the North’s economy on the horizon.

The document, written in partnership with IPPR North, was commissioned following the 2017 Digital Skills Action Summit. It is generally agreed anecdotally that there is an acute skills crisis in the digital tech industries across the region. This Digital Jobs Strategy uses hard evidence against to substantiate this anecdote to quantify the true extent of the problem.

In addition to IPPR North, the report has been written using research from Manchester’s Centre for Local Economic Strategies to create eight themes under which our efforts can be grouped. These eight themes were then consulted on with the community at Tech North’s Digital Jobs Action Summit, supported by EY.

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  1. While I agree that the digital skills gap does need plugging and the points mentioned above will go some way towards that. The bigger issue is the lack of investment. We run a small digital agency in leeds and most of our spend / client spend leaves the UK to the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon.

    These ‘digital giants’ are literally hoovering up money but were all founded on investment and are now BIG employers in the digital market (facebook I read are employing 10,000 to tackle fake news). I can’t think of a single BIG UK digital service (ASOS maybe).

    The cost to develop and grow digital services are expensive and, in my opinion, currently left to independent, private sector entrepreneurs and as a result are usually woefully underfunded and seldom get off the ground.

    I think we have the talent in this country but successive Governments have had a very short-term view on both the creative and digital sectors – as a result, the UK is trailing dramatically behind most of the world where digital is concerned – so yes, more people, but what do you plan to do with them all?

  2. This is a fantastic reading, especially for someone like myself who is looking to move into the tech industry

  3. What we also need is a good strategy to attract good teachers to the northern region to educate these students because the rest of the country also has the same skill gaps but they don’t have such a beautiful region as we do with great value homes and a healthy life style on offer so let’s shout about it!