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Working Together to Unblock the Talent Pipeline – A Message From Our Head of Digital Union

Our Head of Digital Union, Jim Mawdsley, shares his thoughts on the issues surrounding the 'talent pipeline', and what we should be doing, as businesses, to combat them.


In the 3 and a bit years since we took the reigns of Digital Union, the most frequently discussed topic amongst both members and the sector, in general, is talent and skills, or more to the point, the lack of them. Over this time, I’ve sat on numerous round tables, meetings and skills cluster groups, but rarely do I hear much in the way of solutions.

Now, I’m not saying I have a magic wand, nor am I saying that I have many of the answers for what we can do, but what is becoming clearer to me is that we have to do more to work in partnership with education at further and higher levels, ensuring we are collectively developing the talent for the future.

I have noticed that the businesses getting the pick of the graduates and have been doing for a number of years are the ones that have developed their own direct relationships with the Universities. They have found the doorways, knocked on them and now regularly set briefs for groups of students, look at the results and spot the bright and promising talent they can bring into their businesses.

Some have recently been going further. I’m seeing businesses going to FE colleges and developing Academies with them for themselves, in reaction to the size of the problem. Tombola, a Friend of Digital Union, have a great academy system where they take around 40 college students at a time from a number of places and put them through their paces for a week. From there, they select the best 10 who then progress onto a degree apprenticeship with Sunderland University. It’s a fantastic short-term intervention that can produce 10 people for their talent pool. As they run this over the years, it will keep adding to the numbers and help reduce their shortfall.

One of the keynote speakers at the Supply Chain North East Launch Event was Graeme Parkins from Dyer Engineering, a firm that started 25 years ago fixing buckets on large diggers. It has grown to a fully tech-embracing company that produces complex engineering solutions for the subsea sector and has manufactured kit that enables Hitachi to build their high-speed trains in the North East. Graeme spoke about how he implemented the business growth plans, and the key part of the story that resonated with me was that they knew they would have to develop the talent to ensure they could get to where they wanted to go. They had to have a talent development strategy that was integral to their growth plans.

This reminded me that this is how more traditional industries grow their own workforce – through their own talent development plans. They embrace the opportunities for apprenticeships and often work alongside education to ensure they can grow into the future.

So, what are we doing about this for the sector? I believe our role is to work with the HE and FE partners, the Universities, and Colleges to ensure that we encourage more businesses to engage directly with them. To do this, it is our role to find the doors we need to go through and make sure they are open for our members to walk through. For those businesses that aren’t quite the size to be able to devote resources to this, we will look to work with colleges to develop more short-term academies and bootcamps so that there are opportunities for everyone to spot talent. As for the businesses? Give up some time and get in there. I’m sure you find a few gems.

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