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Breaking into the digital industry in the North-East

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Wichy)

The UK’s Northern Tech Top 100 noted in March 2019 that almost a fifth of the North’s fastest growing tech companies are based in the North East of England.

The awards, which cover the entirety of the North of England and Scotland, included 16 companies based in the North East.

There is no denying, this area of the UK is really shining in terms of digital and technologic success. Outside of London, this corner of Britain is the second fastest growing region in the UK.

The question is, why are so many big businesses and start-ups alike making the North East their home?

A business background

In this article, we examine how you can break into the digital industry in the North East.

Well, when you dissect the statistics, it becomes pretty clear. The region has the highest percentage of students studying STEM subjects in the UK. Leading educational institutions in Durham, Newcastle, Sunderland, and Teesside are all producing a plethora of young, aspiring graduates.

Overall, in the Complete University Guide, Durham is ranked the 6th best in the UK while Newcastle University slots in in 22nd place.

Sage, one of Europe’s largest tech companies, has its foundations and headquarters firmly rooted in Newcastle. Opening in 1981, the software company employs more than 13,000 people and operates in 23 countries worldwide. Sage is just one of example of a company who has successfully homed in on the locally produced talent available in the area, working in partnership with the local universities and higher education institutions.

One of Sage’s successful projects has been the development of the Sage Facility at Newcastle University, which specialises in the teaching of Cloud Computing.

Alongside a large pool of incoming graduates, the North East’s office property costs are some of the lowest in Europe, considerably cheaper than that of Dublin, London, and Manchester. And, essential in many respects for tech companies — the Wi-Fi connection is the second-fastest in the UK, eclipsing that of the capital!

Even with these aforementioned reasons in mind, it still comes as somewhat of a shock that more than 2,600 creative industry companies are based in the North East.

With such a large number of companies and similarly impressive pool of skill and talent available, one would be quick to assume that non-graduates wouldn’t have a look in when it comes to employment opportunities. However, to accompany such a rapidly growing industry, there are a number of fast-track programmes on offer.

Self-teaching

Sitting idle in lockdown is undoubtedly the perfect time to complete a variety of these online courses. Browse through catalogues of programmes that have been offered up for free by a variety of institutions.

Many people would think that you need a first-class honours degree in digital marketing, development, or programming to get into the digital industry. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Some of the most successful tech-moguls in the world have made their riches without so much as a day spent at a higher education institution.

Amberlea Henriques from Australian marketing firm #AdSocial notes: “By no means do you need a degree (or even a high school certificate) but you do need to have studied the subject”. Similarly, Christian Eilers of Recruitment consultant Zetsy advises: “When constant change is the only constant, what counts is general competencies: the ability to learn quickly, a positive attitude, flexibility…”.

Because digital is changing at such a rapid pace, formal education can sometimes become outdated. However, the likes of HubSpot Academy, an online courses platform, is regularly updated in line with recent developments, offering more in the way of progress and opportunity for those embarking on it.

Apprenticeships

An apprenticeship is an alternative, direct avenue into the world of tech and digital, offering real work experience with the help and support of industry experts. What better way to crack the code than to work on it every day!

Research conducted by STEM Learning found that in 2018, 89 per cent of tech businesses struggled to recruit at some stage. However, apprenticeships are working hard to bridge the gap.

Hosting and cloud provider, Manchester-based UKFast is one such example of a business who is adapting apprenticeships to meet the necessary requirements of the industry.

Homing in on leadership and communication skills alongside the relevant technical knowledge is crucial in establishing a well-rounded professional who has not passed through the university channel. The benefits of these finely crafted programmes are three-fold: the business, the apprentice, and the industry as a whole, helping quash this skills gap.

Network

The age-old rhetoric of “it’s not what you know, but who you know” still plays an important role in success today, despite the fact it is certainly not outweighed by merit.

Of course, young aspiring professionals are lucky in 2020, thanks to online networking platforms such as LinkedIn, but the power of face-to-face interaction should never be underestimated.

In the North East, those trying to find a way into the digital-tech sphere are at an advantage with events like Rocket Hack offering the opportunity to display your talents and abilities before some of the region’s leading businesses.

Programmers, software developers, designers and many more are given the chance to work collaboratively and interface with some of the biggest industry experts from some of the plethora of businesses that we previously mentioned.

Not only will networking provide you with the opportunity to expand your support network, which is crucial as your begin to navigate your career path, it will allow you to boost your self-esteem and confidence levels. Entering a new, ultimately alien environment can be incredibly overwhelming, therefore experience and exposure is crucial. Alongside this, networking events will allow you to seek out information to any potentially unanswered questions you may have.

Digital is a tricky industry, but the North East is booming and is a region that is so incredibly rewarding. Discover where you want to go within it and decide how you want to get there, but don’t be disillusioned that you won’t be able to achieve it without a degree.

Jonny Gilpin, copywriter, Nomad Digital