THE BLOG

30,000 New Jobs Expected in Greater Manchester's tech sector by 2035 - But We're Still Struggling to Find the Talent to Fill Them

17/02/2016 14:36 GMT | Updated 17/02/2017 10:12 GMT

It's almost a year since I wrote my last blog about Manchester's tech scene and since then we've seen number of external factors, including a change in Government, impact the industry. Shake-ups within the publicly funded initiative Tech North, and reservations around Osborne's powerhouse have caused some ambiguity in the sector.

However, this has not limited the growth nor dampened the buzz around the tech scene in the North. More great businesses are being created and others from outside the region are opening offices here, students in our universities are showing more interest in digital, and there's still a Government spotlight shining on the North, recognising the significant contribution it makes to the UK's tech industry. The past 18 months have seen a real step-change in how the digital industry in the North is viewed.

The ONS's latest Annual Business Survey revealed that Manchester had the highest digital turnover in the North at £2.2bn, with over 50,000 digital jobs currently filled here. And these jobs aren't simply within hi-tech businesses or start ups - digital roles are now needed in all kinds of business across the UK.

In addition, New Economy - the policy, strategy and research body for Greater Manchester - predicts 22,000 additional tech roles will have been created in the region by 2035. I imagine that'll be closer to 30,000, judging by the results of our annual skills audit, which revealed that 800 jobs were created in the past year, by just over 100 businesses in the region.

So the jobs are there; businesses are desperate to attract more talent. But we're already suffering a severe skills shortage in the region, which has seen wages inflate, people take lucrative contracts rather than permanent work, and some businesses in the region being forced to outsource work, sometimes overseas.

So what happens if we continue to overheat? Are we subject to becoming victims of the London ripple effect, losing business to places that have more resource, and are cheaper and more competitive in terms of property? Or are these just growing pains of a city destined to be a significant European tech destination. I'd go with the latter - but only if we work for it.

Ensuring we have a smooth pipeline of talent is essential, but currently the government does not understand how to incorporate digital and technology teaching into the curriculum - at least not in a way that engages students. The computer science GCSE is a good example of this. In fact, the most of the exciting and engaging digital education takes place outside of the formal curriculum and is volunteer run.

The best way to make sure that we develop a workforce with the skills we need is to ensure industry takes the lead and gets involved. Businesses should be creating placements and internships in any case, but a surprising number don't. They also need to invest time and effort into training up graduates and apprentices. I completely appreciate that businesses, especially smaller ones, struggle to find the resource to train these candidates up, but there really isn't an alternative.

The quality of talent going into apprenticeships is also an issue we we need to overcome, as well as the way some of them are run. Unfortunately, there is still a proliferation of poor training companies, and apprenticeships being created for the wrong reasons - I've seen at least three examples of funding being misused in the last couple of years. Apprenticeships being used for financial reward is both extremely unfair and unproductive.

Add to that the amount of red tape around apprenticeships and it is easy to see why many employers do not consider them to be an attractive option. The apprenticeship levy has caused controversy but regardless it will swing into action in April 2017, and will raise £3bn towards apprenticeships in the first three years. However, irrespective of the government investment and the mechanism they use, unless they fix the fundamentals further back in the education pipeline and improve training provision, apprenticeships will not become a mainstream solution for our industry.

Nurturing good talent and keeping it here in the North, rather than losing it to the South, should now be one of our key priorities. In good news, recently published research from LinkedIn shows that this trend is beginning to reverse and we are seeing quite a few Londoners relocate to the North, something I am keen to encourage.

Emerging talent will provide the backbone for the growth of Manchester's (and the wider North's) digital sector. Now businesses must pull together to invest the resource needed to make sure we have to bodies to fill those 30,000 jobs. Whether the powerhouse turns out to be empty rhetoric or not, the only way to encourage any real change in our industry is for businesses to work together and create our own workforce.