People as disruptors

Part of the battle to build a larger tech workforce is about opening up access to a more diverse workforce and broadening working people’s participation in this expanding industry.

But how can this be achieved and are businesses and other organisations currently doing enough to make it happen?

Shelina Begum,’s editor for the North West region chaired a Disruptors North panel to examine the topic.

Taking part were Arlene Bulfin, director of people development at UKFast, Kirsty Devlin, head of growth at Manchester and Leeds Codes, Anna Dick, CTO at HiringHub and non executive board member of Tech Nation, Beckie Taylor, founder and CEO of Tech Returners and Charles Knight, associate dean at Salford Business School.

Devlin said she had seen a lot of demand for her organisation’s coding courses, particularly from women wanting to retrain.

“We’ve seen a very wide range of people coming to study with us,” she said.

“The people we attract don’t have time or money for full university courses. They want something short and fast that gets them results.

“I think universities have been slow to react – they’re only just realising that micro courses are the way forward.”

Taylor said Tech Returners encourages people – especially women – who have previously left careers in the technology industry to come back to the sector.

“One of the barriers women face is a lack of confidence,” she said. “They may often have years of experience in the industry but feel they don’t have the opportunity to come back to it.

“While the pandemic has been terrible, there has been a huge shift in how people can work and flexibility has become the norm.

“This has created more opportunities for people who didn’t feel they could return to tech. I’ve seen a lot of very good software engineers come back into the industry.”

Dick said there is still a long way to go to increase diversity in the tech sector, but added that online working has levelled the playing field for people who feel uncomfortable working in an office environment.

“It’s about looking at non traditional ways of doing things to get different groups of people represented in your team,” she said. “And where you don’t have diversity you can learn from companies that do have it.”

Bulfin said valuable, positive change in the industry would take time, noting her company’s latest apprenticeship programme had taken on 20 people – three of which were female.

She said this may seem a low number, but stressed it still constitutes progress and that these three women would go on to encourage more in future.

Knight said: “We need more entry points to make it easier for people to enter the industry. The Government is really keen on pushing for people to be able to take short, six to eight-week courses instead of having to do a whole university course.

“At our business school many of my students do traditional management degrees but now we offer Microsoft technical qualifications alongside these.”

He said it was positive to see four of the five people taking part in the discussion panel were women, noting that a few years ago the panel would probably have been all male.

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.