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A Message From Jim Mawdsley: Behind The Scenes at Digital Union

The last couple of months have seen a lot of very productive activity with Digital Union ramping up in many areas. Not only have we now established new and popular meetups in the areas of HR and Digital Marketing but the newly reshaped task groups are also starting to take effect as well.

We wanted more people to get involved and that has certainly been the case as we are making the task groups more focussed.

On the ‘profile’ side of making us more visible both regionally and nationally, there is definitely a call from Digital Union businesses that we need to make sure that other sectors know we are here and ready to do business. We are still hearing a lot of talk of other sector businesses going out of the region to source digital services or to develop software and it just isn’t necessary. So how do we make sure that they don’t?

One answer is to push our credibility at other sector conferences. If we had a solid speaker pool of members who are prepared to sit on panels or give talks at conferences within the North East, we can raise our profile further. We at Digital Union can then approach other sector bodies such as the North East Automotive Alliance, North East Process Industries Cluster, etc. and offer to help set up Digital and Tech panels at their events knowing that we can draw on a pool of speakers that have a wide variety of knowledge and expertise. This will demonstrate to attendees that there is a hugely specialist sector here that can help with developments of any size or complexity.

Last week, we had a hugely constructive round table between 16 member businesses and our University partners looking into how we can engage more to help develop the talent pool coming from the Universities and ensure that Digital Union members are allowed opportunities to access talent studying at the Universities from very early on. One of the key things we heard at this session was that some businesses are finding great success in taking some of the best graduates from Universities in the region by starting their relationship with them really early. Rather than waiting until they are in the 3rd year and about to graduate before engaging with the courses, some businesses are starting the engagement with 1st year students, spotting the most promising and offering them internships or placements from the off and then working alongside them as they progress with a view to raking them on once they have finished their course.

As many have said in the past, it is difficult to know how to engage with Universities, particularly if you are a small business and don’t have dedicated talent development resources. This is where we step in. One solution firmly put forward at last week’s Round table was for Digital Union to establish a list of companies that are willing to offer guest lectures, set project briefs and conduct sprints. Basically outlining what their specialisms are so that the Universities can invite you in and engage with the students. The overwhelming response from our university partners at this suggestion is that they would welcome this and take advantage of this initiative immediately.

On both raising our profile and engaging with the Universities I’ll be going out to you all very soon to see who wants to get involved and from here we can build the resource. It will work if many of you get involved.

On the subject of University engagement, Wednesday (16th October) saw the final day of our latest Digital Union Bootcamp and it has once again been a real success with a really high standard of participants getting stuck into this 4 week version. Again, we can’t do this alone and we are very grateful for the participation of member businesses. This time around we have seen NBS (set the industry project 4-week brief and host the presentations), Hedgehog Lab, Orange Bus, Cool Blue, Drummond Central, HR Department, Tombola and Sunderland Software City all deliver sessions to the participants ensuring that they are getting real business training which forms the central ethos of the camps. We are now looking towards rolling out the Bootcamps to more people and working to see how we can embed this into the curriculum at the University.

On the regional front, it was great to see so many of you at the launch of Digital for Growth, the NE LEP’s new strategy to grow the Digital Economy in the North End of the region. I was very proud to be part of the small but perfectly formed advisory group that helped pull this together and I am particularly pleased that there is a section that looks towards Creative Application as essential to the growth of the Digital Economy in this part of the World.

More recently we have also continued the work to assist with the North of Tyne Combined Authority prioritise where they should be applying their resources in this area. It’s a bit early to let the cat out of the bag on what will be happening there but there is definitely an air of sense prevailing in what they are looking at and much of the focus will be on where our strengths lie alongside much needed boosts to digital skills and support for a growing ecosystem.

Our inclusion in these groups is a real mark of how much Digital Union has grown in stature over the last 2 years and is now seen as one of the region’s leading bodies that is respected enough to be included and found essential when needing the views of the sector and business community. Long may that continue.

More from me soon but please get involved as much as you can especially if you are willing to set a student brief or speak on a panel.



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