The transnational meeting held in Cesis, Latvia, in November 2016 proved to be a stimulating couple of days, there was a multitude of ideas and food-for-thought about what medium-sized cities can do to grow, attract, retain and return tech talent.
It soon became apparent that Tech Talent is a huge topic, perhaps bigger than we realised.
There are many challenges and the key questions that arose were:
How can medium-sized cities attract and retain young skilled people?
How can they position themselves so that people want to live and work there?
What can medium-sized cities do to better match education and training providers with the needs of employers in the digital economy both now and in the future?
How can cities influence education provision when the curriculum is set at a national level?
How can cities ensure everyone has equal access to the right kind of digital education and training?
And of course, the key issue of how medium-sized cities can avoid losing out to larger regional and national hubs…
Is this over ambitious?
Maybe, but it’s good to have a ‘stretch target’ – to push cities to really explore the issue of talent from many different angles.
Considering what is already being done across the TechTown partner cities demonstrated a wealth of initiatives and innovative ideas that were already bearing fruit.
The main theme that runs through the middle of almost every one of them is the importance of engaging education to inspire the next generation of digital workers as early as possible, sometimes as early as kindergarten and definitely before they begin in the second phase.
It’s also important to understand the expectations young people have of a job, in a world that provides such easy travel and connectivity across borders.
For future generations, many of the current ways of working are likely to have evolved significantly and employment could be completely different from how we currently perceive it.
The structure of employment, the ‘gig economy’ and a growing recognition of volunteering and contributing to society.
The range of possibilities is endless, but what’s certain is that people will need a wide range of transferable skills that they will use in evermore diverse professional roles.
Key themes emerged at the Cesis meeting; education, building networks, relationships, connections and partnerships developed as a common strand – not only for the benefit of towns and cities but for businesses too.
Acknowledging the commercial advantages that exist, along with the associated potential for revenue creation will encourage businesses to get involved – the ‘business case’ if you like.
There is also a key role for those who are doing well or have already succeeded in the digital industries to come back and inspire others to follow in their footsteps.
Young people in particular benefit from contact with positive role models.
There is great value in having the opportunity to meet and speak with someone who has left their home city for a period of time, developed a digital career and then returned ‘home’.
Cities are already working hard to establish networks and hubs to make engagement easier.
From considering how they need to change to accommodate the more ‘nomadic’ way that individuals and businesses operate within the digital economy, to the provision of non-standard office accommodation to better fit the natural patterns of growing and shrinking, there are some incredibly progressive plans in place.
On the back of the action that is already being taken, what we must also do is to consider how we move forward in terms of measuring success and continuing the positive impact.
Returning to our key question of what medium-sized cities can do to grow, attract, retain and return tech talent, the meeting generated a variety of suggestions to inform and direct our work
Cities can broker connections and events with and of the digital community such as tech meet-ups or hack days.
Opportunities can be developed to ‘hack’ into the school curriculum e.g. after school coding clubs or use of ‘playful’ digital techniques in mainstream education
Effective using the skills and experience of successful members of the digital community, showcasing their achievements to inspire people who are considering a digital or tech future.
The development of communal working and social spaces where members (and wannabe members) of the tech community can meet, work and inspire one another
Medium-sized cities offer a unique lifestyle choice which is becoming an increasingly attractive alternative to their larger city neighbours.
They need to build on this to attract new and returning tech talent.
You can also read our associated Case Study on SKola6, the fantastic digital and creative community hub in Cesis.