The tech skills gap: How the North East is bridging the divide

Charlie Spargo's picture
by Charlie Spargo
Jim Mawdsley, Generator

Jim Mawdsley, CEO of Generator, is a business strategist with extensive networks throughout the UK. He explores how businesses might learn from the example of North Eastern bodies coming together to tackle the technical skills gap, and get the digital specialists they're looking for.          

Recent research has found that the tech industry is experiencing its biggest skills shortage in more than a decade. A shortfall of talent has been reported nationally, with the North East suffering a lack of developers and data specialists in particular which, given the region has the highest number of STEM students, is alarming.

However, some people say that it is not a skills shortage that is the issue, as many colleges and universities are turning out highly educated candidates for roles. They counter the issue by saying that it's a faultline in the general recruitment policies of the creative and tech industries - everyone wants experienced candidates.

The skills of graduates

While this may be the case, businesses often complain that students are graduating from university without being fully equipped for the world of work that awaits them. Feedback from members of our tech and digital networking collective, Digital Union, have found that while graduates might have the technical knowledge, they can lack many other skills needed to work in a fast-paced creative environment such as time management and commercial acumen.

More needs to be done to ensure that graduates are entering the workplace fully prepared for their new roles, but it can’t all rest on universities’ shoulders. Businesses and universities have got to work together to bridge the skills gap across the North; industry and education collaborating for a common goal. 

Last year we launched our Digital Bootcamp which aims to provide recent graduates with a mix of technical and soft skills, providing a solution to the ongoing digital skills shortages.

The format evolved this year and saw us working with the University of Sunderland and the Institute of Coding, resulting in a recent cohort placing 50% of its participants into digital jobs. Our programmes are about getting the right people, with the right skills, in the right jobs. 

Another programme that recently finished after three years was Ladders. This was developed to help 18 to 24-year-olds enhance their enterprise skills and improve their chances of employment in creative careers. Over the course of the programme, over 500 young people accessed support through courses, industry masterclasses, careers events and enterprise development sessions.

Thanks to Ladders, participants now have a wider knowledge of different progression routes within creative industries, with over 100 participants going on to either start their own business or gain employment in their chosen field since completing the programme. 

We can do more

Businesses need to recognise they have a responsibility to develop the talent for themselves and get involved in that development before students have left university. The UK is teeming with hungry pre and post-graduates, some of which just need some extra training or knowledge before entering their chosen field.

As a sector we can do far more to ensure graduates hit the ground running when they make the transition from university life into the workplace.

This can be done by running Bootcamps at universities, pre-assessing college students and taking the best ones through degree apprenticeships, or even going into classrooms and lecture theatres to set briefs and pick the ones that respond well and offer them work experience, an internship, and then a job.

Thanks to the success of our recent Bootcamps, we'll be delivering another two cohorts at the University of Sunderland in the next academic year, with the potential to deliver further ones at other universities in the region. 

Nearly every business I know complains of the high cost of developers and that the bigger businesses are pushing wages beyond belief.

At some point the system will break as talent options become smaller. The only option is to take graduates, but do as much as you can to select the right ones. The schemes that we've been running, and will be developing for the future, are only going to help with that. What we need now is for the sector to get involved and back these schemes by taking part and taking graduates on.

Universities and businesses want the same thing, so doesn’t it make sense to work together?