Digital Skills Gap

The Digital Skills Debate: Manchester Highlights

25 October 2022 • 3 min read

Manchester large

The #DigitalSkillsDebate moved to Manchester and saw leaders from academia and business discuss the research findings and the implications for the North West.


Businesses need to use the Apprenticeship Levy

Professor Edmundson-Bird is a leading advocate for digital literacy, as Principal Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University. He had some strong opinions on the Apprenticeship Levy and upskilling people from non-traditional backgrounds.


“Businesses are missing a huge upskilling opportunity. They have already paid for this upskilling through the Apprenticeship Levy but very few are using all of it. SMEs are not taking advantage where they don't even pay the levy. Millions of pounds are available to bring keen, bright, young minds into the industry and mould them into the leaders of tomorrow.”


Recruitment alone is not the answer


Guy Walker, Executive Search Director from leading recruiter Forward Role, made some controversial points on how recruitment is not the solution to the #DigitalSkillsGap. He advised that investment in upskilling existing employees from all backgrounds is needed in addition to recruiting key capabilities.


“Businesses fight over people with digital skills and throw money at the problem. They will get to a stage where they can’t keep up with the spending. Upskilling your current teams should be done in conjunction with recruitment as investing in your people is more cost effective and creates loyalty.”

Digital mindset, not digital skills


Di Erskine, AND’s Chief for Tenzing West and North West stated the core issue very succinctly:


“Digital is in everything we do. Everyone requires digital skills to do their job, from accountants using analytics software to logistics managers in warehouses using stock control systems. 


“We need to stop the thinking that ‘I can’t code, so I can’t do digital’ and start talking about a digital mindset.”

Key points from the debate


Change the language


We need to stop thinking of digital skills as just things like coding. Digital skills are much broader than that. Both industry and education need to redefine and align on the definition of digital skills to include those more human-centric skills like problem solving, team working and communicating with empathy. 

Bring in people from different backgrounds, ways of thinking

The UK is currently seeing up to a million more graduate vacancies than there are graduates, with one in eight of those being in digital. The only way businesses are going to plug that growing gap is to look beyond the usual entry routes and pools of graduates. We need to inspire and support a greater diversity of talent in digital, recruiting transferable skills from different backgrounds and ways of working, with diversity of age, race and ways of thinking to bring the most creative and inclusive solutions.

Upskill not just recruit


Relying on recruitment alone is not the answer. Companies just end up stealing talent from each other and the pool of talent is limited. Look to your current people and upskill them in digital. Over 55s are a group where digital skills can be added to their vast experience in the workplace. 


Use the funding available


Untapped pools of budget are available to bring bright young people into the industry as apprenticeships with the Apprenticeship Levy. 


Change the perception of working in digital


The stereotypes of geeky coders in basements still persist. Both educators and industry need to change this perception. The image of different careers are formed at ages as young as 7 or 8 years old. Industry needs to work more closely with education to change perceptions at primary and secondary school stages. 


Our #DigitalSkillsDebate events have concluded for 2022, but you can still join the conversation on social, or head to our content hub to discover more opinions on our skills gap research. 


Digital Skills Gap

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