New figures from Manchester Digital, the independent trade body for digital and technology businesses across Greater Manchester, have revealed that 72% of businesses in the region reported growth over the past year, up from 54% in the previous year.

Despite relatively strong growth, businesses are crying out for talent, with developer roles being most in demand for the seventh year in a row. Beyond this, other skill-sets that businesses see as becoming more important over the next three years are data science (15%), UX (15%), and AI and machine learning (11%).

As a result of an ongoing battle for talent, nearly a quarter of vacancies advertised by businesses over the past year couldn’t be filled, predominantly due to lack of suitable candidates and inflated salary demands.

Released at Manchester Digital’s eighth annual Digital Skills Festival in Manchester this week, the annual Skills Audit, which analyses data from more than 250 digital and tech businesses and employees across Greater Manchester, also explored pathways into the tech sector.

Most people entering the sector hold a degree of some form (77%), however, of the respondents that had a degree, almost a quarter said it wasn’t related to tech in any way, while a further 22% reported moving horizontally to the tech sector from another career.

In addition, almost one in five respondents said they had retrained or self-taught their way into a career in the sector – indicating positive steps towards increasing diversity of the people and experience pools entering the industry.

Commenting on the findings, Katie Gallagher, managing director of Manchester Digital, said:

“It’s positive to see a higher number of businesses reporting growth this year, particularly from SMEs. While the political and economic landscape is by no means settled, it seems that businesses have strategies in place to help them navigate through this uncertainty.

“What’s particularly interesting in this year’s audit are the data sets around pathways into the tech sector. While a lot of people still do report having degrees – and we’d like to see more variation here in terms of more people taking up apprenticeships, work experience placements etc. – it’s interesting to see that a fair percentage are retraining, self-training or moving to the sector with a degree that’s not directly related. Only by creating a talent pool from a wide and diverse range of people and backgrounds can we ensure that the sector continues to grow and thrive sustainably.”

When asked about what they liked about working for their current employer, the region’s employees cited flexible working as the number one perk they value (40%). Career progression was most important to those in the 18-21 age bracket, with these respondents also most likely to identify brand prestige as a reason they would select an employer.

Gallagher added: “For this first time this year, we’ve expanded the Skills Audit to include opinions from employees, as well as businesses. With the battle for talent still one of the biggest challenges employers face, we’re hoping that this part of the data set provides some valuable insights into why people choose employers and what they value most - and consequently helps businesses set successful recruitment and retention strategies.”

Alison Ross, platform & operations and people director at Auto Trader, headline sponsor of Manchester Digital’s Skills Festival, added:

“If there’s one challenge that continually faces technology businesses in the region, it’s access to talent and skills. The Digital Skills Festival, combined with the insight provided through the Skills Audit, creates a key focal point for businesses in the region to understand the scale of the challenge, as well as providing solutions for how we can work collectively to solve it. Auto Trader is delighted to support this important event and play our part in supporting the region’s digital tech sector.”

Manchester Digital’s annual Skills Audit is used by policy makers, businesses and other regional and national stakeholders to understand which issues need to be prioritised and addressed.

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