Bernard Ginns: Digital businesses can be massive engine of growth

Picture: PA
Picture: PA
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IN A sign of the times, the demand for skilled digital workers is far exceeding supply.

According to Herd, the IT careers website, the number of vacancies for digital jobs in Leeds has expanded by 50 per cent over the last year.

Founder Amy De-Balsi said vacancies have increased from 400 in December 2014 to more than 600 now.

The requirements are mainly from large organisations expanding rapidly but there are also lots of small and medium sized businesses looking for digital talent.

Tom Bridges, chief officer for economy and regeneration at Leeds council, said the situation is a result of the city’s success as a digital hub. He added: “Developing, attracting and retaining digital talent is a priority for us.”

The council’s digital skills board of local employers meets for the first time today to identify the right short, medium and long-term solutions to the problem.

Better late than never. The number one obstacle to growth is the supply of skilled workers, as one of the biggest digital employers in the region told me recently.

Richard Flint, the chief executive of Sky Bet, said: “The biggest constraint on our business is skilled technicals. The biggest constraint on our putting more investment in Yorkshire is the availability of that talent.”

Last week, the private equity-backed business announced plans to invest £11m in creating 200 new jobs in Yorkshire. Half of these will be filled at the technology and contact centre teams in Leeds, the other half will be at the company’s new technology hub in Sheffield. Once filled, they will take Sky Bet’s head count to 900.

Mr Flint said Leeds is good for tech talent, but it is a competitive market. Larger rival William Hill employs 1,300 people at its technical and trading teams in the city. Hence the reason for him to look more broadly at Sheffield.

He added: “We think it is a great other place to look because it is close enough to Leeds that we can share knowledge, have meetings and put people from one office into the other, but not so close it has the same talent pool.”

Mr Flint said cities with thriving digital sectors - making up what is known as the “flat white economy” - are able to attract international talent, are fun places to live and work, have affordable housing and benefit from good transport and communications infrastructure.

He added: “Leeds has got a lot of that already but if we can work harder to further all those aspects, then I think digital businesses can be a massive engine of growth.”

It is not just tech jobs. These companies also employ sales and marketing people, contact centre staff and project managers. These workers buy coffee from independent retailers, exercise at gyms, drink craft ale at bars and invite guests to stay at boutique hotels. The knock-on effects are significant.

Councillor James Lewis, executive member responsible for resources and strategy at Leeds council, said: “We have seen such a boom in the digital sector here in Leeds over the past few years, with firms expanding and many others being attracted to Leeds’ strong and growing economy. This has created a large demand for skilled and talented people.

“We are now bringing the city’s digital employers together to help attract people with the right skills to fill these vacancies, and are working with digital businesses to provide people with the skills needed to get jobs in this growing sector.

“We are also working closely with the city’s schools, colleges and universities to ensure their students are aware of the range of opportunities available and have access to the training and qualifications they need to fulfil these roles in the future.”

Education is key to solving this challenge, right across Yorkshire. Employers have a role too in making their sector attractive to young people.