The Council and democracy Manchester Digital Strategy 2021 – 2026

Theme 1: Smart People

Smart People is about making sure that all our residents have access to the skills, training and employment opportunities that they need to participate fully in the life of the city and benefit from its many opportunities. 

Fundamentally, this means tackling the high levels of digital exclusion in the City, removing barriers to accessing digital services and ensuring that all our residents have the access,  skills and confidence to go online to maximise the opportunities provided by the internet and digital services. 

Smart People is also about creating the opportunities for people to learn and develop new skills at all levels. Some of this means working with schools, colleges and universities to improve careers education as well as formal training in digital subjects. However, it is also critical for the success of the digital sector that we address current skill shortages in the short to medium term, to enable them recruit the talent they need to thrive. 

Finally, Smart People, is about encouraging greater entrepreneurship and creating new routes into more highly skilled and more highly paid jobs. This requires a more flexible response from the skills system and for digital businesses to provide input to curriculum design, delivery and work experience.  One of the recognised challenges for the sector is its lack of diversity in terms of talent attraction of gender, ethnicity and age.  Digital bootcamps bridge some of this skills gap and the recent Digital Fast Track Programme (GMCA & DCMS) enabled residents who were unemployed or low paid to participate and supported diversity. However it is also clear that there is a need for the sector to look at how it can ensure opportunities are attractive and accessible to everyone, regardless of their identity or background. 

Smart People case study – Fast Track Fund / TechEquity Manchester 

Fast Track Fund – TechEquity Mcr  

The Fast Track Digital Workforce Fund, has been effective in addressing immediate digital skills shortages by providing participants with the technical and digital skills needed in industry now. The £3 million fund is a joint venture between the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and Lancashire Digital Skills Partnership (LDSP) - set up to support both Greater Manchester and Lancashire residents with accessible routes into digital employment,   

It has enabled residents who could not normally afford to pay to participate in flexible digital bootcamps, to take part and at the same time is supporting the industry to diversify by including more underrepresented communities.   

TechEquity Mcr is one of the skills bootcamp that were offered to residents and embodied a diverse consortium of community and education partners including; T.A.P, the Heroworx Institute and Malleable Mind. Over the course of two years, the career-readiness project addressed specific skills gaps in Linux, computer networking and cyber security to participants that self-identified as women or trans gender.   

The aim of TechEquity was to connect the opportunity of high-value technical careers to the residents who may normally be excluded from these types of opportunities. The project offered a pathway into tech for Hulme and Moss Side residents in particular – Wards that have neighbourhoods experiencing deprivation and high representation of residents experiencing racial inequality.  

A grassroots, traditional approach was taken to recruitment. The consortia built strong relationships with local organisations to create trust pathways into communities e.g. working with Caribbean and African news and radio outlets in South Manchester to reach the community. This holistic approach resulted in more than 300 local enquiries for 36 placements. The tailored cultural and gender sensitive marketing, resulted in more applications from ethnic minorities (66% of the applicants) and 75% recruited onto the programme, which is four times higher than the current 14-15% (across genders) in the UK tech workforce (Inclusive Tech Alliance Report 2019)  

Learners undertook international professional recognised technical qualifications in Red Hat Enterprise Linux, LPIC Linux Professional Institute and CompTIA. Within the six months after the 16 week course course, 55% of learners went onto secure employment in STEM-related businesses and organisations or went onto higher learning. The demand for programmes like TechEquity to upskill and create opportunity for residents was demonstrated as enquiries outstripped supply 10:1.  

Why Smart People? 

As well as supporting the skills requirements of the digital sector, digitalisation is a trend that impacts on the wider Manchester economy, which has been accelerated as part of the pandemic. Through the Smart People theme, we will improve the productivity and growth of the foundational economy, as well as widening the economic opportunities for more of our residents. 

Firstly, we know that digital inclusion and digital skills are the foundation for growing and sustaining our digital economy and ecosystem – Smart People are what really makes a smart city. However, we can do better in making sure that all our people have access to the essential services, devices, skills, training and employment opportunities that they need to participate fully in the digital world. 

Digital exclusion remains a significant barrier for too many of our residents and has a disproportionate impact on people who live in poverty, particularly those with English as a second language and disabled people, as well as on older workers, women/girls and those aged 65+. As well as being unacceptable for reasons of social equity, this means that there are many residents who are digitally excluded from jobs, skills and online services. Whilst the evidence is there to inform us who is most likely to be excluded, we were until now able to establish a mechanism with to identify the scale of the challenge. 

Connected to this issue, there is a lack of diversity in the digital sector and a need to ensure that more women, older residents, and people experiencing racial inequalities are encouraged and connected to opportunities. The digital sector and those enrolled in digital learning opportunities, particularly at technical & higher levels do not tend to reflect the diversity found in Manchester’s communities.  

Secondly, we understand the challenge faced by the education & skills system to meet the needs of the digital sector and equip learners with the most up to date qualifications & skills needed to enter & sustain good quality careers in the sector.  This is because the pace of technological change makes it difficult for traditional learning, often designed and delivered over years, to keep up. It is also because there is a need for more capacity in the system to enable enough learners to progress through to meet the increasing demand for digital and technical skills from employers. 

At present, this lack of capacity has created skill shortages within the digital sector. The most recent Manchester Digital Audit highlights development, digital marketing, DevOps, testing & quality assurance, and user experience as areas with particularly high demand. Leadership and management skills have also emerged as being in demand from employers and employees. Meeting these demands requires a more flexible response from the skills system and for digital businesses to provide input to curriculum design, delivery and work experience. Manchester will benefit from additional investment in skills and training provision, for example at The Manchester College’s new City Centre Campus and Manchester Metropolitan University’s new School of Digital Arts (SODA). There are also some good examples of co-created curriculums that combine learning with relevant work experience.  However there is a need to develop and strengthen the volume of pathways into industry, which we are currently seeing through an increase in self-learning and bootcamps. 

What will Smart People achieve? 

Over the life of the Digital Strategy, Smart People aims to: 

  • ensure that Manchester residents of all ages can gain and sustain the skills, aspirations, and confidence to fully participate in the digital world. 
  • Aid mainstream education in building its capacity to ensure all young people are equipped with the skills to take advantage of the opportunities that digital presents. 
  • create new routes into higher level, high value jobs and entrepreneurship. 
  • ensure that digital businesses have access to the talent and skills needed; providing the basis for Manchester to become an inclusive, diverse, successful and ethical smart city. 

To make these aims happen, we will work towards the following priorities: 

By enabling more people to get online and stay online, encouraging and inspiring people to learn and develop new skills, creating new routes into entry level, more highly skilled and more highly paid jobs and growing digital leadership across education, the skills system and industry we achieve the following outcomes: 

  • People accessing digital and technology related learning and employment opportunities will more closely reflect the diversity of our city. 
  • More people will be accessing opportunities in digital and technology related subjects. 
  • More people will be employed in roles in the sector that are more highly skilled, better paid and more secure. 
  • Fewer businesses will report problems attracting and retaining talented people. 

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