How Chris Hill of Northcoders is transforming hundreds of lives and cutting the UK's digital skills gap

Chris Hill has transformed the economic prospects of hundreds of people and helped to cut the digital skills gap, writes Deputy Business Editor Greg Wright

Chris Hill, the founder and CEO of Northcoders, believes his company can open a world of opportunity for people of all ages, social demographics and ethnic backgrounds.

HERE’s the ultimate pub quiz question.

What do the former platform announcer at Manchester Piccadilly railway station and the captain of the England men’s lacrosse team have in common?

Sign up to our Business newsletter

Sign up to our Business newsletter

Easy. They have both had their careers transformed by Northcoders, the provider of coding and software development training, which has a flagship site in the heart of Leeds and plans to keep growing following its admission to AIM (the Alternative Investment Market) over the summer.

Chris Hill, the founder and CEO of Northcoders, believes his company can open a world of opportunity for people of all ages, social demographics and ethnic backgrounds.

He established Northcoders in 2016 after witnessing the challenges a host of companies were encountering in hiring software engineers. Northcoders’ coding school offers “boot camp” courses which are delivered through virtual and face to face learning.

The group also works with corporates across multiple sectors to help staff gain new skills, and it is a registered provider of Government-backed apprenticeships.

Northcoders, which was admitted to trading on AIM in July, aims to reduce the skills gap in the UK and help meet the increasing demand for digital specialists in every aspect of modern life. The need for its services has grown as Britain adapts to the post-pandemic world of work.

He was working for a major technology firm in Leeds when he had his ‘Eureka’ moment as a budding entrepreneur.

“I realised that they needed hundreds of software developers but were often struggling to get them,’’ said Mr Hill.

“There was a need for a company like Northcoders. It’s an exciting sector and you are always going to be progressing into the jobs of tomorrow.”

“We started small in the old Sharps Electronics Factory in Manchester,’’ he recalled. “We offered a course for just 10 people. Nine out of these 10 people successfully completed the course. From the very start, it was important we reached out to people from diverse backgrounds.

“We continue to keep succeeding and that’s where the coding bootcamp came from. It led us to bigger premises and more people delivering more courses.”

In 2019, Northcoders expanded by adding a base in Platform, Leeds, which towers over the city’s railway station.

Mr Hill said: “Platform is the tech hub for Leeds and the coding community seemed to be built around it. We are looking at our options to grow our presence in Leeds and in multiple other geographies.”

“Demand for our courses has gone through the roof, but we are highly selective.”

Participants have ranged in age from 17 to 57. They have included people who had been working on zero hour contracts in supermarkets.

Mr Hill added: “We do a lot of outreach work to grassroots coding clubs and to people who would never have considered careers in the tech sector.

“We have a 96 per cent success rate on our courses, which is partly a reflection of the highly selective criteria,’’ he added.

“We are a business with a high rate of cash growth and we are here to create life changing opportunities for individuals.

“In the space of a few years, somebody who has completed one of our three month courses can be earning more than £40,000.

"Some of the members who joined a cohort in our first year are now earning around £80,000.”

Until this summer, the company had grown with a small amount of seed funding and debt.

It decided to list on AIM to gain access to capital and for the reputational benefits of becoming a PLC, which should help Northcoders secure work with more blue-chip corporate clients.

“Our biggest investors include Bradford-based Vela, which is an AIM-listed company which backs disruptive businesses,’’ said Mr Hill. “We have worked with Arup (the multinational professional services) firm over the last three years to train structural engineers to create new ways of delivering their work, which is based around software rather than spreadsheets.

“Our roll out plan is to have hubs in all the Northern cities,’ he added. “Our Midlands hub, in Birmingham, is coming soon and we also have plans to open in Newcastle, Sheffield and Liverpool.

“The flexibility of our hybrid teaching model means we can work with corporates throughout the length and breadth of the UK, wherever there is demand.”

In a trading update published last month, Northcoders revealed that its national reach is expanding, with the group’s apprenticeship division securing contracts from Plymouth to Darlington and Penrith.

Demand for the group’s core Bootcamp courses is growing strongly. Applications have increased as the UK moves away from the pandemic, and more individuals look to change their careers. So far, more than 800 people have seen their career options broadened with help from Northcoders. The company clearly regards Yorkshire as an area with significant growth potential.

“Wherever there is a critical mass there is the potential to create a pop up hub,’’ said Mr Hill. “It feels like the Northern cities are getting bigger as they form regional clusters.”

Chris Hill, is the founder and CEO of Northcoders, a major provider of coding and software development training.

Founded in 2016, its business model operates a hybrid structure with flagship sites in Manchester and Leeds.

The company has joined forces with ThoughtWorks on a new scholarship programme to help underrepresented groups train for a career in the tech sector.

ThoughtWorks recognised there is a lack of diversity in tech and hopes to tackle this by offering four people a fully-funded place on one of Northcoders’ coding bootcamps in Leeds or Manchester. Professional services firm EY has also agreed to fund five women via the Northcoders’ 12-week training programme.

Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you'll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers. Click here to subscribe.