The key to a thriving sector is having great, forward thinking businesses, providing products and services for a growing market – and having talented people to help them operate and grow. So, when you look at the creative and digital sectors in the North of England, one would expect the future to look bright, given the companies and individuals based here.
To some extent you’d be right. We have some near incredible firms delivering world leading developments in the creative and digital world: be it gaming, publishing, communications, technology development or design, we have it all, here in the North. At the same time, the talent emerging through our schools, colleges and universities is also of a standard which suggests the industry is in safe hands for years to come.
But what happens when these young people finish their studies? The natural step would be to find a position within one of these organisations and start to build a career, here in the North.
Sadly, that’s not the reality. Instead, there’s a serious disconnect, which is creating a skills exodus and draining the region of much of this talent. Businesses and opportunities here on their doorstep are being overlooked or are simply not known about, and our creative and digital talent leaves the region in search of work in areas such as London, or even abroad.
Also, when you look from the outside in, young talent emerging outside the region is equally unaware of the great opportunities open to them here in the North. So we don’t have skills immigration in these sectors to balance the aforementioned talent migration.
Obviously, it’s unrealistic to expect every young person in the North of England whose talents and ambitions lie in creative and digital careers to remain here; as great a place as we know this is to live and work in. Likewise, not everyone outside the region will want to come here for their careers. But we must do something about this disconnect between businesses and young people, so we can keep and attract more talent.
First, businesses must be more visible to young people. They need to show the great work they’re doing, to enthuse the workforce of the future and raise awareness of the careers people can enjoy here.
Second, they need to create and promote opportunities for people to build a career in the North.
As director of the Youth Training Academy in Gateshead, I have seen this problem many times and have talked with many bosses who agree action is vital. There’s a strong consensus that North of England can be a world-leading hub for these industries. Opportunity for this to be realised must not be missed.
Hence my Creative North campaign now up and running – to engage with these business people, to encourage and support them in championing their businesses, the industry and the region, primarily through the creation of apprenticeships that will help young people secure a career start here in the North.
The Creative North campaign has a number of key objectives. These include bringing 500 creative and digital businesses, schools and organisations, on board to support our efforts, and getting 150 of those organisations to engage with schools and training programmes within the next 12 months. Most importantly, we want to support the creation of 200 apprenticeships for local young people – and 100 more for individuals from outside of the region, all with Northern employers.
We’ve also started signing up Creative Champions, business leaders who’ll give voice to these aims and ambitions. The first group includes leaders in communications, gaming software, brand consultancy and publishing.
We want, and need, more such people to come on board and not only to be ambassadors for Creative North, but also to create visible and sustainable apprenticeships and opportunities, to give the sector the boost it needs to achieve its potential.
If the promise within the sector is realised, so too will be the potential of those within it, and those who are yet to take their first steps in their careers.
Let’s make it happen.
Rob Earnshaw is founder of the Creative North campaign and director of the Youth Training Academy. More details on www.creative-north.co.uk