Closing the digital skills gap

The digital skills gap is one of the most critical economic problems facing the North.

Leaders need to be able to understand and embrace the opportunities from disruption and their companies need to employ and develop individuals with the skills to make it happen – otherwise they will be left behind.

But having and keeping the right skills and talent in the business, and building diverse, resilient teams with fantastic leaders is extremely difficult with the current war for talent.

To explore the issue, the Disruptors North conference heard from a panel which included Arlene Bulfin, director of people development at UKFast, Mo Isap, founder and CEO of IN4 Group, Hayley Roberts, CEO of Distology and Paul Green, chief commercial officer, of Godel Technologies.

The panel was chaired by’s North West editor, Shelina Begum.

Isap explained how his company’s HOST innovation hub, in Salford, is providing access to futures in the technology industry for communities which did not have this access in the past.

He said creating a tech skills base for the future is vital, adding: “At HOST we’re creating a ‘plus sum’ game because recruitment at the moment is zero sum – you’re only pinching people from someone else.

“If we continue down that track we’ll be strangled and we won’t see the benefits of digitalisation and innovation.”

He highlighted the sobering statistic that Salford is the 18th most deprived local authority in the country, even though it is home to Media City.

“Technology is only good if it enables people to live prosperous, happy lives,” he said. “So we’re not just training people for the sake of it.”

Roberts said the country’s technology industry is currently losing a lot of potential talent, with 56,000 women a year disappearing from the career map when they have children.

And she said employers should cast their nets wider when looking to recruit people. “We need to be hiring people with other skill sets and core competencies and creating roles around people rather than shoving people into roles.”

Commenting on her own firm’s approach, she said: “As a growing business we hire people based on attitude and energy. You can teach most things if people are willing to learn.”

Green, whose company employs more than 1,600 staff in Eastern Europe – mostly in Belarus – emphasised the importance of promoting careers in the technology sector to young children.

“We should be trying to influence kids at an early stage and showing them what careers are available,” he said.

“In my organisation we have a programme where we look to take people from outside the tech sector and train them from the ground up.”

He cited figures from Microsoft which state there will be as many as three million tech job roles in the UK by 2025.

“Government has to play its part too,” he said. “In some Eastern European countries tax breaks are being offered to help bring talent into the industry.”

Bulfin said work placements and work shadowing can help spark interest in the tech sector among young job seekers.

She said her business, UKFast, has its own apprenticeship scheme and works with local schools to drum up enthusiasm for technology jobs.

“Our apprenticeship programme is a brilliant way of saying to young people that university isn’t the only option,” she said.

The Disruptors North conference is a free one day event brought to you by alongside headline sponsors Deloitte, Clarion, UKFast and Quba which set the challenge for businesses to pick a side and decide whether to be the disruptor or the disrupted.

The virtual conference is also being sponsored by Nexus, Curveblock, Stickyeyes, Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund, WeLink and Ribble Cycles. It showcased the businesses already leading the charge and innovating from the north and the next generation of entrepreneurs and companies that are aiming to transform the regional, national and global economy.

To find out more click here.