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UK – Digital hubs creating regional jobs

21 August 2013

Digital hubs are springing up all over the country according to the Drum, and a recent report from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) estimated that there are approximately 270,000 digital businesses in the UK – far higher than previously thought and placing much more of the activity outside of London’s so-called Silicon Roundabout, a thriving tech community in the City of London.

The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) predicts that inner east London will benefit from a +31% increase in employment by 2031; and by 2016, London will likely have reclaimed its status as the fastest growing region in the country. The digital and tech sectors are estimated to contribute more than £66 billion to the UK economy annually and the London industry alone is worth around £34 billion a year to the UK economy, providing more than 48,000 digital jobs in London, according to a report by Demos.

Mark Hadfield, senior planner at London-based digital agency Weapon7, says: “My advice for people wanting to break into digital would be to demonstrate that you are ambitious, not egotistical; experimental, not a risk taker; and channel neutral, not single-minded. Despite operating within the digital sector, we don’t just want people who purely focus on digital. It’s essential they have an innate understanding of digital technologies – how consumers are engaging with digital technologies, and how brands can harness these trends.”

In the North West in March 2012, Manchester City Council unveiled a 10-point plan to put the city on the worldwide digital map by 2020, while the council has just unveiled plans to create a “mother brand” holding company to support and develop digital sites across the city. Meanwhile, in Leeds, regeneration and development of New Dock, Holbeck Urban Village and the Tower Works have had a digital theme, while business occupancy at the Tower Works reached 80 per cent in its first year. The Leeds industry provides around 13,600 jobs in the creative industry.

Chair of Manchester Digital and CEO of CodeComputerlove, Tony Foggett, says: “There is still a general skill shortage across the board really, particularly when it comes to finding experienced people and for quite senior roles. UX and mobile specialists are also in demand. We have quite a particular recruitment policy in that we look for what we call ‘T-shaped people’, who are awesome specialists as well as collaborators.”

In the Midlands the creation of a new £35 million digital plaza and the development of a city centre enterprise zone are expected to boost an already vibrant digital media and marketing scene in the UK’s wireless city pioneer, Birmingham. Birmingham City Council announced plans in September for six new zones in the city targeting the main economic areas. The proposals included development of the city centre enterprise zone, to house the digital industry.

“Birmingham has a vibrant creative quarter, with digital now at its heart,” says Kishen Hawkins, director of FstFwd. “With places like The Custard Factory and FazeleyStudios providing high quality accommodation for digital industries, there is a thriving creative community already at work here. Anything to do with mobile and devices is hot right now: develop skills in either building native apps or responsive web apps to be successful in today’s job market.”

In the South, according to the local city council, job growth in Brighton and Hove has exceeded both the regional and national average for the last 15 years, driven by the boom in digital, and continued investment into the creative hubs in the area is positive news for those looking for a digital job in Brighton. The city council estimates a potential for the city to create in the region of 20,000 jobs over the next two decades and government figures show unemployment in Brighton has fallen to 5,841, a drop of -4.5%. The success is attributed to the growing digital economy.

Operations director at Bozboz, Peter Biggs, says: “We’re seeing a rapid move into specialisms as the growth and depth of each digital arena continues to increase. But conversely, generalists who can understand the whole landscape and generate holistic marketing strategies are also very valuable people.”

In Scotland the release of the annual ScotlandIS technology industry survey in April revealed around 45,000 new professionals will be needed in the next five years for the fastest growing sector in Scotland. The IT and digital industries currently employ over 100,000 people and 70% of survey respondents said they planned to take on more staff in 2013, a rise of +10% from 2012.

Creative diversity director at Channel 4 and chair of the Scottish digital media advisory group, Stuart Cosgrove says: “Scotland has a very strong emergent digital media culture with strengths in games, digital agencies and web-based services.

"Small companies have recognised over the last few years the need to have the right commercial skills in place and that’s a great opportunity to take people from other industries. We’re seeing people being recruited from project management and digital marketing – those skills are transferable across a number of industries.”

In Wales in September, Cardiff became one of 10 cities in the UK to receive funding to become super-connected. The £11 million pot will provide 100% availability of ultrafast 1Gb broadband connections for business – essential for any city seeking to establish its digital credentials and attract investment. With development projects in the city– such as Porth Teigr – and a range of services boosting the area, the Cardiff job scene is vibrant and close to the buzzing London digital media market, making it an attractive location for companies and creatives.

Sarah Morris, marketing manager at Sequence, says: “There are a couple of developments in digital that are changing the digital jobs and workspace locally, the first of which is the innovative incubation scheme that is run from Wales’s digital hub, Cardiff Bay. This initiative is backed by the Welsh government and offers a range of unique services to support local digital media businesses.

“The second development is the rise in popularity of companies like Indycube. This allows people working freelance – quite common in the digital arena – to work alongside like-minded individuals, helping to foster the feeling of community and collaboration.”

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