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Fair Access to Technology Futures Roundtable, sponsored by IN4 Talent

With more than 2.8 million residents, over 124,000 businesses and a diverse economy, Greater Manchester is continuing to establish its position as a world-leading digital city region.


However, the demand for digital skills has never been greater due to the impact of the pandemic, and the exponential growth of the technology and digital industry has been pivotal for employers in developing a workforce fit for a tech-enabled economy.


The Fair Access to Technology Futures roundtable brought together senior figures from organisations across digital and education sectors, including Siemens, Cisco, Missguided, the University of Salford, Codurance, Apadmi, Sedulo, Sputnik Digital, Nivo, Aldridge Education and IN4 Talent - to discuss the changing landscape of future technology talent in Greater Manchester.


The evening was chaired by Mo Isap, founder and CEO of IN4 Group, operator of HOST, on the stunning seventh floor of HOST Social in MediaCity.


Alongside a mix of great company and expert insights was a delicious seven-course tasting menu created by Reece Mitchell, head chef of Grindsmith, who previously worked at Simon Wood’s flagship restaurant WOOD Manchester.


The challenges of talent recruitment


The discussion began with introductions from each guest and the sharing of their experiences of talent recruitment and the challenges they face as employers and providers.


As an Enterprise Adviser volunteer, Laura McGowan, People and Culture Director at Sedulo, works directly with schools in Manchester and has found there is a significant skills shortage at a grassroots level. She said, “it's something that I'm really passionate about and I want to do something, but it's hard to do it in your own right, so we have to pull together in the right direction to make things happen for the future.”


Supporting people at a grassroots level was also important to Amelia Bampton, Regional Director of UK North at software consultancy Codurance. She spoke passionately about understanding how people want to achieve their sense of purpose, identity and find their place in the world.


Amelia said “I have a lot of time to help people by sharing my journey, trying to inspire them and helping with the grassroots. It's all about the grassroots and as a term, I really think we're going hear a lot more of it in the tech space, and I’m here to support that.”


Gert Rohrmann, Training and Development Manager at Siemens said that he’s been trying to backfill the digital skills gap within their talent pool. “The older engineers are heading towards retirement while new young talent is coming through which is not always as digitally skilled as we would like. We're trying to develop both the new talent and upskill the gap between new and older engineers. And that's the real problem.”


Fashion retailer Missguided has expanded rapidly and is looking to scale into a billion-pound business in the next three years. Gary Young, Head of Development at Missguided, spoke about the challenges he has experienced with recruiting software engineers as people have left to work with companies based in London or the US because they’ve been offered a 40% higher salary than the North West.


He said, “we’re increasingly going to Belarus for talent, which is a shame because we'd like to be investing locally, we'd like to be utilising the skills that are here. There are obviously a lot of skills here, which is why recruiters are targeting the North West, but we're looking at all sorts of different angles to approach this problem.”


David Smith, Chief Revenue Officer at Nivo, has also struggled with hiring new engineers, but he wasn’t sure where recruitment had gone wrong.


Andy Almond, Managing Director of IN4 Talent, has worked in technology recruitment for over 20 years and has seen a huge transformation in the labour market due to Covid-19. He stated that recently he has spoken to a lot of companies about whether they are prepared for the change in the behaviour of the labour market in the future and how they attract staff.


Nick Black, Director of Apadmi, has seen the company continue to grow but he has experienced difficulties with recruiting the right people and retaining talent. He highlighted that the marketplace has opened up with more people working from home now and businesses have been approaching Northern talent to fill their vacancies. “We're looking at new ways of how we can do things differently” when it comes to recruitment.


Jane Fletcher, CEO of Aldridge Education, explained that while education is not always set up to move fast, it is really important that education understands the workplace and its needs - allowing young people who want to move in a certain direction or want to be inspired to think about new sectors, to think about how they can achieve their career ambitions.


Talent diversity and inclusivity


HOST’s Skills City is committed to fast-tracking 450 people into digital technology careers every year by providing people with fair access to digital skills training through its Skills Bootcamps. This unique infrastructure is pioneering demand-led digital skills and talent provision at a scale to maximise the choices available to employers and learners.


Mo (IN4) explained that Skills City is white labelling its bootcamps for employers to provide upskilling so they can advance quicker. He also talked about the multitude of barriers that many young people face and the importance of them having access to a network so they can thrive.


Liz Larner, Deputy Dean of Salford Business School at the University of Salford, highlighted the importance of industry collaboration and the many different approaches to learning such as apprenticeships and technical qualifications, which don’t necessarily have to include the traditional university degree path. “It's about attracting talent that wants to stay here and work here.”


Andy Nicol, Managing Director of software development agency Sputnik Digital, talked about the need to support people from disadvantaged backgrounds into employment and ensuring they are allowed the opportunity to learn coding skills.


Gert (Siemens) recognised that diversity is a huge issue for the engineering sector, especially with attracting women into engineering. Siemens has been actively encouraging women to engage with engineering starting at school level, but he realises more needs to be done to ensure even better inclusivity.


Andy Beaden, chairman and co-founder of IN4 Group, explained that the Group has first-hand experience of taking on diverse graduates from its Skills Bootcamps, and has seen amazing changes in their development and the impact they have had on the business.


David (Nivo) said, “I think it's really important to let people from the inner cities know that you can do well, no matter what your background is.”


Jane (Aldridge Education) said that education can often be driven by regulatory bodies, performance tables and statistics – these things all have a right place in the sector. However, Aldridge Education is trying to focus in on its key mission of leaving no one behind including the hardest to reach and thinking about how this can be done at scale. 


Women in tech


Laura (Sedulo) said “I don't like the word soft skills; I use the word essential skills because the soft takes away the importance of it. You can't exist without these skills. But for me being able to give people the confidence to even engage in a conversation about a problem or have the confidence to apply for something is important.” She added that this is particularly the case for women.


Mo explained that IN4 and Skills City is working hard to re-address the balance of diversity in the technology sector by creating programmes specifically tailored to young girls, women and those from BAME communities.


Helen Douglas is Director of Communications and Apprenticeships at Cisco and sits on a panel for the Department for Education. She added that courage is key because we can actively help people to build up their soft skills and career currency so they can put themselves forward for jobs.


Amelia (Codurance) also questioned how we can reach those who may not have the courage and confidence to ask for support with mentoring and advice. She felt this could be tackled at a grassroots level from when children are at primary school.


Nick (Apadmi) stated that “we have to help children understand that it's not just about programming, there are so many jobs in digital and tech that we need to be comfortable about getting them into, and it has to start right from the beginning.”


Mentoring was a key topic of conversation and Laura (Sedulo) talked about her experience as a mentor, which has been hugely valuable in helping individuals to bolster their confidence. “As an employer, I can't get them all jobs, but I will happily sit and put my time into mentoring people to giving them an insight into the world of work.”


Liz (University of Salford) said that while we would like people to be more resilient and confident - in reality, that’s not going to happen for a lot of reasons, particularly in some communities. “The real question is how do we change as employers to understand the needs of different communities and understand the differences.”


She said, “to be truly diverse and to acknowledge the value that a variety of different people bring we have got to be more open-minded about how we recruit, how we support people in the workplace, and in particular how we develop and encourage talent.”


Gert (Siemens) recognised that diversity is a huge issue for the engineering sector, especially with attracting women. Siemens has been actively encouraging women to engage with engineering at a school level, but he realises more needs to be done to ensure inclusivity.


He said “I think if you can uncover the hidden talent in communities that haven't had access to a career path then that may be of massive benefit. There’s lots of latent talent sitting there that haven't had the opportunity to shine and I certainly welcome the opportunity to dig a bit deeper into that talent pool.”


Future proofing skills


Mo (IN4) emphasised the need for collaboration across sectors; education and industry, “we've not kept up with the change in the landscape. And innovation is not just about tech. Innovation is about how humanity meets its needs now and, in the future, as well as with education.”


Helen (Cisco) emphasised the passion that comes from industry leaders and the importance of using this to their advantage when it comes to collaborating about the future of skills development in Greater Manchester.


Jane (Aldridge Education) is actively looking to engage with employers as students from Aldridge UTC@MediaCityUK have developed skills in creative, digital and media industries, and need practical industry experience. “Invest in our kids and our kids will be the future of your organisations.”


David (Nivo) is passionate about the skills we can embed in young people from school age. He added, “I would much prefer to hire on an attitude over qualifications because I think attitude is the key driver, and here in Salford and Manchester we've got this great attitude.”


Gert (Siemens) highlighted the value of recruiting people for internships and getting them involved in interesting, real-life, industry projects so they then become advocates of your organisation and are more likely to want to work with you in the long term. Those interns who stay within the business then end up training and mentoring new graduates, creating a “cycle of development.”


Gary (Missguided) added that some of the talent that might come from coding schools won’t provide any value for at least the first six months because it will take them that long to be supported into their role and working with the team. Plus, he has found salaries are continuing to increase for junior roles which can be quite challenging.


Building an alliance across several different organisations where talent can move around and gain valuable industry experience may be the way forward. Mo (IN4) said that the “experience of working in diverse environments would be phenomenal.”


Andy (IN4 Talent) has found that there is a culture of stealing talent between companies, particularly in Greater Manchester, but in terms of growth, new jobs won’t be created by just moving people around. Interestingly, more people moved jobs this month compared to two years ago.


He said, “it's completely reimagining the whole talent marketplace. By looking at skills, what you need from a mid to senior level, changing that mindset and thinking about what the talent within your organisation is going to look like in five years - we’re going to win that war today by changing our behaviour now.”


Mo (IN4) reiterated the pressure on recruiters where they have found themselves in a “zero-sum game that’s strangling the economy with the same talent pool, and we need to bring a plus one game by providing a new pool of talent.”


Helen (Cisco) spoke about the power of collaboration and said, “everyone at this table has something to bring to this discussion and by bringing all these things together, we will build the best skills in the United Kingdom that will help propel this country forward, especially from a digital skills perspective.”

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