three people working on laptops smiling, digital skills

By Naomi Timperley, Head of Growth and Innovation, Manchester Tech Festival

The prospect of improved digital inclusion is something that drives me to get out of bed in the morning.

With our lives becoming increasingly ruled by devices that are connected to the web, access to these devices and the network that connects them is fast becoming as necessary a part of life as food, water and shelter.

Despite the UK’s tech ecosystem now being the third-largest in the world behind the US and China, a digital divide is still very firmly in place in some parts of the country. In October 2022, the first ever Manchester Tech Festival will be taking place in the city that’s well-known as a vibrant hub for startups and scaleups of all shapes and sizes. I’m proud to be part of the team delivering the festival.

But the city still suffers from socioeconomic gaps which mean that opportunities to work and thrive in digital aren’t open to everyone. And if we don’t have diverse teams, that won’t just affect the bottom line; It will also affect the hardware and software that we’re developing.

I recently attended the Tech London Advocates Tech for D&Iversity 22 event. While the various talks addressed the startling lack of women and different ethnicities in senior positions in London tech firms, as co-founder of Tech North Advocates I spoke about the difference in socioeconomic divide in the tech sector as Greater Manchester and the North has some of the most deprived areas in the country.

The UK is undeniably a diverse country and the event’s report looked at whether the sector had followed this trend for diversity and inclusion or not over the last five years. It concluded that with the pandemic and the process of Britain leaving the European Union, diversity and inclusion had slipped down the list of businesses’ priorities.

Yet the perception of diversity and inclusion remained. When asked if they thought UK tech had become more inclusive and diverse in the last half-decade, almost 60% of the respondents said they thought it had.

Inclusion in tech covers many different aspects and groups of stakeholders. As well as the socioeconomic gap that we want to bridge, consider the inclusion of groups like the neurodiverse; an Office of National Statistics (ONS) survey last year showed that only 22% of autistic adults were employed.

With our focus on socioeconomic factors, one of our festival’s missions is to support and help close Manchester’s digital divide caused by deprivation in parts of the city and encourage other cities and hubs to do the same.

It’s my belief that barriers to entry into the world of tech come right from school. In 2019/20, I worked on a project hosted by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) with Digital Advantage called GoDigital.

As part of the Greater Manchester Digital Blueprint, the GMCA set out their vision to develop a future talent pipeline in Greater Manchester. The GoDigital programme was set up to help deliver this ambition, by giving 11-to-13-year-olds the chance to create digital products, experience the buzz of working in the digital sector and try their hand at a digital job.

To create GoDigital, three Greater Manchester digital skills organisations came together: HiveDigital Advantage and InnovateHer.

All three organisations are working towards the same goal of demystifying the digital and technology industry for young people, helping them develop the skills and confidence to pursue a career in the industry.

The 50 schools selected to participate in GoDigital were chosen because their students had not previously had the opportunity to take part in an activity like this before. More than 90% of them were in areas where there is not currently significant employment in digital.

The lack of such knowledge and the digital divide across the wider reach of Greater Manchester is preventing the area’s children from pursuing employment in the tech sector. With the festival, we want to reach across this divide and make a career in the field available to everyone.

The founder of the festival, Amy Newton, runs a diversity and inclusion consultancy called Inclusively Tech and offers workshops and courses to companies of all sizes, focusing on how to get the most out of the area’s tech community while reaching out and engaging with under-represented tech talent in the right way.

Working together, our festival will unite thousands of tech delegates, from software engineers, start-ups and scale-ups, investors, product owners, practitioners and more, to help people and organisations learn, create, thrive, and involve to ultimately shape Greater Manchester’s tech scene.

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Manchester Tech Festival is a week long festival in October 2022 which will highlight the diverse talent, showcase the innovative businesses and bring together the eco system and the community.