Digital festival’s mission to close the skills gap

choices: Stuart Clarke, right, said many people and companies are eschewing the bright lights of London for Leeds. 'Picture: james hardisty
choices: Stuart Clarke, right, said many people and companies are eschewing the bright lights of London for Leeds. 'Picture: james hardisty
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The next Leeds Digital Festival is aiming to be bigger and better than ever with organisers looking to showcase how people can build successful careers or companies in the city.

Next year’s festival will be held between April 16-27, organisers revealed to The Yorkshire Post.

Festival director Stuart Clarke says the collaborative nature of Leeds makes the city unique and is a strength for the region’s digital sector.

“We see more people and companies coming together and working together within Leeds than in many other cities,” Mr Clarke told The Yorkshire Post.

He added: “Part of that is the compact city centre. It’s easier to work with people when they are just a five or ten minute walk away.

“Partly it’s just that general Yorkshire attitude of let’s all pitch in and help each other.”

A key focus of next year’s Digital Festival will be looking at the skills gap within the digital industries.

Mr Clarke said: “Every single tech company you speak to says one of their biggest issues is making sure that they have enough talent in the pipeline to fill any gaps that they might have.”

The festival director added that work was being done by the city’s universities and the digital sector to close this gap.

“Over the last few years we’ve been seeing more collaboration between companies from the digital sector and the universities,” Mr Clarke said.

He added: “We’ve seen a lot of companies like Sky Bet and NHS Digital introduce their own apprenticeships and graduate recruitment schemes. That’s helping keep the graduate talent within the city.

“The universities are themselves also working closely with companies. They are also setting up their own digital hubs encouraging their graduate students to become entrepreneurs and stay in the city.”

The brain drain hasn’t stopped completely but it is slowing down, says Mr Clarke, with many people and companies eschewing the bright lights of London for Leeds.

He said: “London sits on its own as the tech capital of Europe let alone the UK. But there are more and more people and companies looking outside of London to help them and their companies grow.

“Office rents are less than half in Leeds. Private accommodation is about a third of what it is London.

“You can move to Leeds, be part of a fantastic digital culture and still have a fantastic standard of living, which is increasingly hard to do in London.”

The next Leeds Digital Festival will feature a number of events encouraging women into the technology sector. This year’s festival hosted 115 events spaced over a week. However, with the extra week, Mr Clarke says the organisers are aiming for even more.

He said: “We’ll be taking the undergraduates on show and tell sessions from your bigger companies to your smaller agencies.

“Sky Bet for example will be putting on a number of events aimed at encouraging women to get into tech.

“We’re working closely with Sarah Tulip at aql to build a number of events aimed at encouraging women and schoolgirls to get in to tech.”

This year the festival attracted 10,000 people.

Organisers believe that they can get 15,000 attendees at the next edition.

Companies can play their part

The Leeds Digital Festival will enter its third year in 2018. The festival, which aims to promote the tech sector in the city, encourages companies to put on events.

Stuart Clarke said: “The beauty of it is that it’s a city wide open platform. So as organisers we don’t actually put any events on ourselves. We just encourage the city to put events on.”

The committee is looking to raise money to promote the festival and is seeking sponsors.

Mr Clarke said: “We had fan-tastic sponsors last year. We’re hoping to get more sponsorship so we can make the Digital Festival bigger and better.”