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Digital Skills Festival 2024 Roundup

The Digital Skills Festival 2024, the flagship event from Manchester Digital, brought together the North West's digital and tech community for a week full of new insight, inspiration and career development.

This year’s festival took place between 5-9 February 2024, with events taking place at No.1 Circle Square, Bridgewater Hall and online.

The 2024 festival was brought to you in partnership with Auto Trader, Manchester’s Digital Strategy, University of Salford, Manchester Metropolitan University, University of Manchester and Bruntwood SciTech. Day sponsors included ECOM Recruitment, AtkinsRéalis, BCS, Tracsis, BAE Systems Digital Intelligence, Booking.com and GlobalLogic UK&I.

Here are some of the headline stats for the week, read on for our festival roundup.

Monday

Kicking off the week was Conference Day, with an afternoon of discussions at No.1 Circle Square diving into the future landscape of the digital skills economy. 

Expert panels and speakers tackled topics such as the impact of fast-emerging technology on the workforce, and took a look at the regional outlook for the tech sector.

AI was unsurprisingly a hot topic running throughout many of the day’s sessions, with a call for the need of a human-centred approach.

In addition, Manchester Digital Chair Alison Ross and Vice-Chair Tom Amies-Cull presented the findings of this year’s Digital Skills Snapshot (which replaces our usual Digital Skills Audit, taking a more reflective approach with input from our tech community and wide-reaching membership). You can download a copy of the report here.

Read our full roundup of Conference Day here.

Tuesday

On Tuesday, Discover Digital Apprentice Day put the spotlight firmly on the merits and opportunities of digital apprenticeships for both individuals considering an apprenticeship and businesses looking to understand how apprentices can help them gain skilled talent and boost productivity.

The morning session was aimed at aspiring apprentices, and included a keynote speech from our day sponsor BCS, a panel discussion around finding your path in the world of apprenticeships, a session from Auto Trader on their apprenticeship programme and a further panel and opportunity to ask questions to some of BCS’ leading apprentices.

In the afternoon, attention turned to businesses and how they can get the most out of apprenticeships. Attendees heard from the likes of AJ Bell and Auto Trader on how they support apprentices in their businesses, a session on leveraging funding support, a panel on employing apprentices and BCS presented their Employer Toolkit.

Some of the takeaways from the 'Employing Apprentices' panel included:

  • Annette Allmark, Director of Learning Development, BCS: "When it comes to thinking about taking on an apprentice, start with the why - why are you doing this for your business and what are you trying to achieve.  Do the research and understand what apprenticeships cover."
  • Ayra Asif, Operations Manager, Lightbulb Media: "The three things we consider when hiring an apprentice at Lightbulb Media are 1) vibe check 2) experience and 3) potential."
  • Kallum Jones, Software Developer Apprenticeship, Auto Trader: "Support is vital for apprentices, if you nurture that you’ll get the best out of your apprentice and they’ll give the best they can for your company."
  • Fathiat Abdul-Quadri, Digital User Experience Professional Degree Apprenticeship, Interactive Investor: "When you're taking on an apprentice, make sure your whole team is aware. The whole team needs to understand that this isn’t just an employee, they’re also a student. Don't bombard them with work, but make sure you give them enough so that they feel part of the team."

Wednesday

The centerpiece of the Digital Skills Festival, Talent Day, took place on Wednesday as the iconic Bridgewater Hall transformed into the region's largest tech career fair. 

Over 2,000 students, graduates, jobseekers and career changers attended alongside representatives from 40 of the region’s leading tech employers and trainers, as we matched up some of the region’s top future tech talent with opportunities across the industry.

The careers fair was spread over three levels of this beautiful building, whilst a CV clinic ran at the very top of the building helping attendees to enhance their CV and how they present themselves to employers. Meanwhile, attendees also had the option to attend industry seminars led by the likes of Auto Trader, BAE Systems Digital Intelligence, Tracsis and The Candidate.

Talent Day was a bustling day full of fantastic conversations and new connections, and we can’t wait to hear about some of the successful hires that it leads to.

Thursday

Shifting focus on Thursday, we returned to No.1 Circle Square for our first ever Digital Her Day as we zeroed in on Manchester Digital's Digital Her programme which aims to increase gender diversity in tech roles and support women in tech across the North West. 

This was an afternoon full of Insightful and inspiring presentations, panels, discussions and workshops led by women at various stages of their tech careers from businesses across the region, exploring key topics like improving allyship, challenging conventions and owning your career.

One of the key topics of the day was around allyship; what it looks like and how it should be achieved. The panel agreed there are two important sides to this: 1) shut up and listen, and 2) open up and speak.

One of the key takeaways from the day's keynote speaker, Morna McAuley from Booking.com, was also around alleyship: 

"Challenge the paradigm we live in. We make assumptions about how things work and things should be. A lot of this is based on a male environment or typical type of demographic, especially in tech. Push this and challenge it - lean into your alleyship, we should expect a lot from it. Watch it in yourself and in others, and help others where you can."

Friday

Rounding out the Digital Skills Festival was the Professional Development Day, which delivered online sessions for tech professionals looking to skill up. These included: 

  • Beyond pixels: How design teams can thrive (Auto Trader)
  • Make Management Your Superpower (Andrew Thomas FRSA FloL)
  • Building Accessible & Sustainable Websites for People and Planet (Nexer Digital)
  • Business and Education: Talking the same language (Manchester Digital)


With over 3,200 attendees across the week, the Digital Skills Festival underscored the vibrant growth of Greater Manchester's digital landscape, outlined some of the steps needed to address the skills challenges the sector is facing and helped to facilitate meaningful connections that will set the stage for future success.


Get involved with the 2025 Festival

If you would like to discuss how you can get involved with next year’s festival, whether that be via sponsorship, speaking opportunities or taking an exhibition stand at Talent Day, please email kate.wilson@dustsoft.net.

Want to be involved next year but not a Manchester Digital member? Download a membership brochure to find out about all of the benefits of membership.


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