If you ‘skill’ it, they will come

Bob Paton, vice chair of Dynamo North East feels passionately about the importance of training. He outlines the organisation’s skills strategy

Bob Paton points to a report which came out just over a year ago which underlined the importance of North East England to the UK’s digital economy.

In December 2016, the Office for National Statistics identified technology as the fastest growing sector of the economy and further reported that within that sector North East England was the fastest growing region with double the national average rate of growth.

But Bob Paton, a retired md of Accenture’s Newcastle Delivery Centre, insists that the region cannot afford to rest on its laurels.

“The report’s findings are brilliant news,’’ he says. “But we need to really create a pipeline of talent through schools, colleges and universities and then through into employment, because only by feeding the sector with a pipeline of talent will we be able to sustain that growth and carry on growing the region’s IT economy.’’

He emphasises the importance of getting more young people to do A-Level Computer Science as a key qualification for the sector which gives access to apprenticeships and college and university courses. He argues that to achieve that, we must persuade more school students to do GCSE Computer Science.

And the way to get more people doing that is to get more people to pick it as an option and you get more people to pick it if something has sparked their interest somewhere along the school journey.

To do that Dynamo, with the industry’s support, has been promoting coding clubs in the region’s primary and junior schools.

“You have to start off at the grass roots and build on as wide a base as you possibly can,’’ says Paton. “Then you have to target other secondary schools to make sure there is an awareness out there about the jobs that are there. This is where the challenge is. There was another recent government report which said that only half of schools in the country offer A Level Computer Science and only two thirds of schools offer GCSE Computer Science.’’

To address that problem, Dynamo has promoted the foundation of North East Futures UTC, Paton describes this as the `jewel in the crown’ of Dynamo’s skills strategy. Northern Futures will work closely with employers to prepare 14 to 18 year-olds for careers in IT and Health Care Sciences.

“It’s not going to cure the whole problem but, once we are up and running, we are going to have 600 students in there and we want as many of those as possible going into our industry, either directly as apprentices, or by going on to university,’’ says Paton.

Dynamo also works closely with employers and training companies to set up and develop apprenticeships for the digital sector and, through the Dynamo Talent Matching Service, to match apprentices and prospective apprentices with employers.

Paton says: “We just need to keep on promoting our sector as a growth industry, telling people about the great highly skilled and highly paid jobs out there. It’s never going to be a simple fix, there’s no silver bullet solution but in this region we are very good at collaboration and, if employers and education work together, they will crack this problem.’’

Case study – Dynamo talent hub

Dynamo North East has created a hub – the Dynamo Talent Matching Service – to act as clearing house, so that, on the one hand, graduate and apprentice candidates can find jobs; and, on the other, those young businesses, that have not achieved the profile to be on job seekers’ radar, can attract quality recruits.

Nicola Short, of training development company Gradvert, is a Dynamo member who has been leading on, and co-ordinating, the Dynamo Talent Matching Service.

She explains how some of the big digital employers have many more applicants than vacancies and, in recruiting, identify large numbers of talented candidates who don’t make the final selection.
“With the hub, these businesses can say to unsuccessful applicants: `You didn’t get through but we have this brilliant service go and register with it and put on your profile and there are other opportunities within the membership of dynamo for you to have a look at’.’’

Any communication between a prospective employer and a candidate is done through the hub without disclosing the candidate’s personal contact details.

“This project is an exemplar of the way we operate in this sector in the North East, with people coming together to address a problem we all face,’’ says Short. “It’s an idea that be translated to many other sectors as well.’’