Building a skilled technology workforce in the North West is the key to unlocking the potential of the Northern Powerhouse.

This is according to several senior digital leaders, including BusinessCloud deputy editor Jonathan Symcox, who spoke during a roundtable at Advanced’s new regional headquarters on Booths Park in Knutsford on Friday.

The digital sector in the UK is growing at a faster rate than in any other G20 economy, yet companies in the North West are struggling to recruit employees with the skills required to keep up.

During the open discussion, experts shared ideas on how to close the well-documented North South Digital Divide along with the initiatives that will deliver a technology workforce that is both skilled and diverse.

These include:

  • techUK’s Returners Hub – a one-stop shop for people looking to return to the tech sector and for tech companies interested in starting their own returners programme
  • Tech North’s Northern Voices – a speaker training programme to address the gender or regional imbalances at conferences and media appearances
  • Manchester Metropolitan University’s Digital Innovation – a project that gives students and staff access to emerging technologies as well as creates opportunities for students to work with companies on “live” and industry-relevant projects
  • Manchester Digital’s Diversity Toolkit – launching in May, a resource for digital and tech businesses to help them attract and retain a diverse workforce.

The roundtable followed George Osborne MP’s official opening of the regional hub for IT software and services company Advanced.

Jonathan Symcox is to the right of Osborne

Jonathan Symcox is to the right of Osborne

The newly refurbished offices are now home to over 150 employees and will accommodate digital apprentices in the future too.

Advanced has pledged to recruit 60-70 apprentices in the UK each year, with a focus on providing technical training to help address the digital skills gap and improve career prospects in the North.

“As a large technology employer, we are committed to supporting high performing candidates in achieving their potential,” said Advanced’s Chief Marketing Officer, Sally Scott.

“With the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy, we have decided to focus this investment of approximately £500,000 per year on creating apprenticeship opportunities around technology and digital.

“Our pledge to boost digital skills, and provide people in the North West with an inclusive and dynamic environment to work in, will enable us to play a key role in the development of the Northern Powerhouse.

“We employ some of the best talent across the UK, but we want to help close the North South Digital Divide. Our goal is to attract and retain a diverse workplace designed to accelerate career opportunities for candidates from all walks of life in the North West.”

Last month, the UK Government published its Digital Strategy with skills at the heart of its plans and revealed significant commitments from some of the biggest UK employers including Lloyds Banking Group, Google, BT and Microsoft to help support and train the next digital generation.

Julian David, CEO at techUK, the trade association of tech companies in the UK, believes 2017 will be a critical year for the UK and the technology industry.

He said: “The pace of change is unrelenting. New technology and new business models are disrupting everything from job roles through to established social and political norms.

“The UK decided to rewrite many of its key relationships and the government has set out a new industrial strategy that puts digital success at its core.

“Historically, we have done well in digital innovation and adoption such that key centres like London and Cambridge are world renowned.

“However, the government has also highlighted that this success is not spread evenly across the country and, if we are to succeed in the future, we need to correct this to create a global Britain that delivers for all communities in the UK.”

BELOW: Flick through the Q1 2017 edition of BusinessCloud's interactive digital magazine

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