Manchester focus: Can the city’s talent pool support the rate of digital growth?

University of Salford's School of Media, Music and Performance, based at MediaCity

As part of The Drum’s series of reports on the marketing and media scene in Manchester we speak to a number of industry insiders operating in the space to gain an insight into the key issues surrounding the city emerging as a media capital. Here, we're asking: ‘is there enough talent being produced in the city to support the rapid rate of digital growth?’

Nigel Papworth, owner, RefineryI believe so. Every kid in his bedroom is becoming an expert in online thinking and computer graphics.Lou Cordwell, founder and CEO, magneticNorthThis is the big issue for the next two years. There is absolutely a temporary shortfall in talent at the moment, which could potentially inhibit digital growth in the region. We’ve found this a real challenge in the last year. In terms of combating the talent issue there are a number of new initiatives bubbling through that aim to grow, attract and retain creative talent in the city. As an example, The Sharp Project has some particularly progressive thinking in this area plus having institutes like Hyper Island situated here can only help. However, it is ultimately about output. As a region, it’s down to us as a creative community to collectively up our game. We have to focus all our energies on producing interesting work that in turn provides Manchester with an exciting and original reputation within the wider creative/digital community.
Natalie Gross, CEO, AmazeI think there is a definite gap between talent and the demand of the city, but I don’t think this problem is isolated to Manchester. It is a national problem and one that will only become worse as digital becomes increasingly intrinsic to business.
Jane Hudson, MD, Forever CreativeWe are fortunate that we have a bank of talent that we work with who are keen to stay ahead of the game. However, I know that it can be tough to find people with the right digital skill set owing to the levels of demand and rate of change. There is some exciting local talent coming through who just need a chance to show what they can do. We need to make sure we nurture this talent to secure the future growth of our industry.Jo Leah, managing director, Weber Shandwick ManchesterRight now I’m not sure we have enough home grown talent in social marketing. For example, many in PR are struggling to keep pace with the 30 second news cycle that comes with the explosion of new digital channels to break news. Also, the demands for constant interactive engagement call a new kind of creativity in communications.The University of Salford’s plan for a new landmark Technical College at MediaCityUK is much needed to help the city grow our digital talent pool. But we must all take responsibility within our businesses to up skill and support talent as well retrain the veterans to work in new ways.Tim Newns, chief executive, MIDASGreater Manchester boasts Europe’s largest student population, with 10,000 of its students studying over 300 media and digital courses at its four universities. Manchester is extremely well equipped to support the rate of digital growth. There is a serious commitment to producing the necessary talent, which explains why Salford University has moved its entire Art and Media School over to the MediaCity site. Our students are also benefitted by the two private universities within Manchester – Hyper Island and Futureworks. Both concentrate on creative, digital and media courses – working with industry to create work ready graduates with live briefs and first-hand experience when they graduate. Sue Woodward, director, The Sharp ProjectThis is a UK problem and one which Manchester is tackling head on. We are working on plans to support the creative, media and digital sectors in Manchester by talent spotting and skill building. The council is looking to address this from skills in primary schools through to secondary and further education with support from our universities. We want to deliver for the businesses here so that they can grow bigger, faster and internationalise. We are working with the private sector and asking them what they need, not what we assume they want. We are working with strategic partners locally, domestically and internationally and Manchester expects to lead the way for UK on this agenda.Chris Garratt, MD, BertManchester has a magnetic effect on great young designers and developers, much like other leading cities, so the talent pool extends way beyond the city. A great case in point is a project we ran with two GCSE pupils over in Warrington - they approached us to develop an app. We gave them an opportunity to work with us and two weeks later they had co-developed #lovelife – which charted at number 8 in iTunes free business downloads. Tony Foggett, CEO, Code ComputerloveWithout once again getting on my soapbox, this is a subject close to my heart. In short, no. Of course there have been some notable advances in the area of nurturing talent and education; particularly the creation of Hyper Island Manchester, one of the most interesting and major developments in the city. Salford’s new school in MediaCity is also another step in the right direction, plus the universities continue to adapt – albeit at different levels and pace – offering new subject areas and greater understanding of business’ requirements. But there will continue to be ramifications for the sector because of changes in university funding. More and more we witness attitudes towards further education mean that those students who have ‘invested’ in their degrees expect to work for big blue chips brands and command London weighting salaries upon graduation. The talent shortage is something in which all regions have a role to play; everyone recognises that we all have to do our bit in producing, nurturing and retaining digital talent – be it the educational establishments or digital businesses. In fact, our customers are fast becoming one of our biggest threats in the battleground for the best talent. Digital is permeated into all businesses and embedded in marketing; therefore agencies compete as much as with clients in the battle for talent as they do with fellow agencies.Sponsored by:The Visual Arts Pavilion image from the University of Salford

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