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People, Skills & Talent

Bridging the digital tech divide

Judith Furlong, Sector Director of Financial and Professional Services at The Skills Company, also part of The Growth Company, discusses how a demand-led approach is the key to supporting a world-leading digital economy in Greater Manchester.

We live in a time when the digital tech industry in the UK is growing more rapidly than any other sector, and is forecast to continue to be a key part of the UK economy. It is a rapidly changing sector that is thriving in the North – this continued pace means there are many opportunities for careers and jobs, but we must equip our young people with the right skills.


The ‘Digital Native’ as misnomer 

The three-year-old you saw clutching an iPad. Your teenage daughter who has just launched her own blog. And the boy next door constantly snapchatting his experiences as he makes his way through college. We’re surrounded by ‘digital natives’ aren’t we?

There’s the common perception that because young people today have known no world other than one where technology is at their fingertips, they’re ready for the modern workplace. But they’re not.

Being adept with social media and consumer technology is simply not enough if the UK is to compete in the global digital economy – there’s a gap we must bridge. If we don’t change our approach to developing young talent that’s equipped for the workplace, we risk falling behind our international counterparts.

From frameworks to standards

In Greater Manchester, we’re proud to be supporting the development of young people through our pilot digital tech apprenticeships for 16 to 19 year olds.

We have worked hard to replace the existing heavily prescribed frameworks to a more flexible standard that is more responsive to employer need. We have designed this apprenticeship programme, in partnership with Manchester Digital, with the aim of helping young people take advantage of the amazing opportunities to work in tech and digital. 

The Manchester Digital Level 4 Software Developer Apprenticeship is a unique, industry-backed programme supported by some of the best and most forward-thinking companies based in Manchester. All of whom are regularly recruiting.

All the training is delivered by experts and the curriculum is created by employers, ensuring it’s up-to-the-minute and relevant.

It provides an alternative, much more bespoke, route to the workplace for young people who want to forge a career in the digital tech industry. As an apprentice you get a real wage, avoid university fees and, most importantly, develop the skills aligned to the actual needs of employers.

We know already there is a shortage of talented people going into well paid roles across Manchester. If successful, we hope to create a labour market of exceptional local people with the right skills to work in this fast growing sector.

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But before our future talent even makes it to the workplace, we have a social responsibility to ensure we’re providing clear paths to apprenticeships, employment and further study.

Finding the right match between talented young people aged 16-19 and the behaviours characteristic of tech-specific roles, which people often misinterpret, is equally important. For example, just because a young person has an interest in coding, doesn’t mean they would fit a career in I.T.   

This means we must not only provide the skills and knowledge that can be applied and directly appeal to their industry of choice, but also signpost this emerging talent to the right opportunities where they’ll flourish.

Bridging the gap between digital natives and industry requirements starts as early as possible. We want employers to buy into the option of bringing people into the workplace from an early age – not to displace the requirement for graduates, but to complement them. 

Are you an employer that could offer an apprentice the stage to take their first step towards excellence? Want to know your options and the undoubted benefits an apprentice can bring to your workplace? Enquire and Grow for more details.

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Judith Furlong

Judith Furlong, Sector Director of Financial and Professional Services at The Skills Company

Judith has been involved with apprenticeship programmes since 1997 and is currently the Sector Director for the IT, digital, accounting, financial services and professional sectors at The Skills Company. Recently she has been heavily involved in developing new apprenticeship standards across the professional and digital sectors, in order to more effectively address the skills gaps in these industries, thereby creating exciting opportunities for both employers and individuals.