The creation of a new £35m digital plaza and the development of a city centre enterprise zone are expected to boost an already vibrant digital media and marketing scene in the UK wireless city pioneer, Birmingham.
Birmingham City Council announced plans in September for six new zones in the city targeting the main economic areas. The proposals included development of the city centre enterprise zone, which will be home to the digital industry – and plans are already moving.
A £7.5m iCentrumTM centre will take around 12 months to build and is the first of four proposed buildings within the digital plaza. The business incubation centre will support development and attract talent. A similar facility, Birmingham Science Park’s Entrepreneurs for the Future, launched just over three years ago and led to 58 new companies with 111 employees and directors.
The job market in digital is countering the general decline in traditional media jobs and, as in any area, the key is finding a niche in the market.
“As far as digital is concerned, we have noted a shortage of candidates with the right mix of ‘soft skills’,” said Kishen Hawkins, director of Birmingham-based digital agency Fast Fwd. “They may have the technical savvy to build digital products, but often lack the kind of interpersonal and communication skills necessary for an ambitious company like ours, working with international clients.”
The six economic zones are expected to attract a total of £1.5bn investment and create 40,000 jobs. According to the Economic Zones Prospectus, the creative and digital industries generate more than £890m for the local economy. There are 6,000 digital and creative businesses within the city and predicted growth for the sector sits at five per cent per annum for 2010-14. The wider digital and technological sector in the region boasts over 12,500 firms in total – a rise of 30 per cent since 2005 - from major global brands to smaller independent companies, and provides employment for more than 64,000 people.
Digital jobseekers starting from the lower end of the ladder can expect salaries starting from £15,000 in roles such as digital account executive, where applicants would be expected to have a working knowledge of social media handling, online marketing, SEO techniques, website building and a developing knowledge of mobile platform opportunities.
For those in industry looking to move into more senior digital positions, opportunities exist for professionals with wide ranging experience and skills which can be applied to various sectors. A more in-depth technical knowledge – using CMS, HTML, web building and app development, for example – will go far. A strong entrepreneurial mind, leadership and ability to create effective strategies are important qualities.
“Anything to do with mobile and devices is hot right now,” Hawkins continued. “Develop skills in either building native apps, or responsive web apps, to be successful in today's job market. Employers also like to see experience - but this doesn't mean that you have to have worked for someone else before. If you're looking for your first job, there is nothing from stopping you getting involved in building your own products or getting involved in open-source. It still gives you experience, and more importantly gives you something tangible to show off. The digital sector is based around very practical activities - so you need to demonstrate that you can build quality products.”
Birmingham and the West Midlands are particularly well-known for the games scene and provide a wealth of opportunities for specialists in the industry. The city is considered the UK gaming hub and employment there accounts for just over a fifth of the entire UK games workforce. Companies like Codemasters, Blitz, Raw Games and Sega operate throughout the region and the installation of super-fast broadband has made Digbeth a focal point for creative and digital industries. Foundations are being laid for the next generation, with Birmingham City University hosting an industry-leading gamer camp, as well as a facility specialising in creative, digital and performing arts for 14-19 year olds, Birmingham Ormiston Academy. It’s a city investing in the future as well as the present.
“Birmingham has a vibrant creative quarter, with digital now at its heart,” said Hawkins. “With places like The Custard Factory and Fazeley Studios, providing high quality accommodation for digital industries, there is a thriving creative community already at work here. Birmingham is the country's second city and with recent regeneration, it's a very obvious growth scene for digital. We're excited to be part of it.”