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The rise of digital in Birmingham – are we leading the way?

In the week that celebrated 30 years of the World Wide Web, Matt takes an honest look at the rise of digital in Birmingham, the current status, and what we can look forward to.

Read time: 7 mins


Digital, Birmingham, Strategy

High praise indeed for the ‘Second City’

“Birmingham has never been a city to show off, despite its fascinating history, unique architecture and arguably the finest gastronomy in the UK outside of London. With a new high-speed rail connection and the Commonwealth Games on the horizon, its modesty is being put to the test as Britain’s second city becomes a place that gets better and better.”

Not my words, but the words of Lonely Planet writer, James March. We love you, Marchy! (I don’t know him)

Whilst this article is focused on Birmingham’s credentials to entice the traveller, recent news reports would suggest that you could neatly overlay our city’s and region’s digital credentials onto this quote as we start to flex our muscles in this area.

More reasons to be proud of our city

We were recently voted the best city outside of London to develop a career in digital by job site, Monster – taking into account digital economy growth, available digital jobs, and quality of life – the best place for start-ups (according to Start-Up Britain), and the fastest-growing digital sector outside of London.

Outside of those accolades come multiple digital investments in Birmingham that surely have London looking over its shoulder:

  • The West Midlands has been selected as the testbed for 5G technology.
  • Birmingham is winning funding for digital skills drives left, right, and centre.
  • There’s a new digital board to support the growth of the region, driving the city forward into a world-class digital economy, supporting innovation and deployment.

But Marchy – as I often call him – is correct; us Brummies have historically been modest creatures.

If you take away the Peaky Blinders effect and how quick we are to hang our baggy cap on the success of the cult TV show, we’re otherwise too awkward and uncomfortable to shout about the good stuff happening in our city. This is particularly the case on the digital front.

There’s a whole wealth of stories that lie between the waters of our canal-laden city – we just struggle to ‘pipe up’ about them.

All in all, things look pretty digitally damn good for Birmingham don’t you think?! Well, yes there is some incredible stuff happening in the region (and a lot of it that does go unnoticed), BUT there is still a hell of a lot to do.

Here’s the digital BUT…

In typical Brummy fashion, this is where I bring it crashing down to earth.

The digital skills plan, courtesy of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), highlighted that we are behind other regions when looking at the digital skills gap:

Our region is the largest centre for digital and tech enterprises outside London but almost three quarters of large employers and half of SMEs in our region report digital skills shortages.

At a recent Digital Horizons event at the fabulous iCentrum in Aston, I heard from many inspirational speakers, including Deborah Leary OBE and Tracy Westall, who highlighted how under-represented women are in the digital sector.

This is supported by the fact that only 17% of people working in tech are women, and only 7% of A-level computer studies students are girls.

There’s some incredible work coming out of the ever-growing, forward-thinking agency community of Birmingham and the West Midlands region. However, I know we have a part to play in shouting up more about the amazing work we all do with only three representations in The Drum Top 100 Independent Agencies and no representation in the eConsultancy Top 100 digital agencies 2018.

Changing perceptions, keeping our substance

The good news is that it’s ok to not be there yet. We’re in the midst of change as we all try and get a handle on the so called ‘digital revolution’.

It does feel we’re doing it in the right way in the region by laying the technological foundations, embedding digital capability for the future, and being honest with ourselves about the fact that our digital skills gap and inclusivity issues need significant work. The importance of this can’t be underestimated.

Also, with all kinds of recent recognition and digital growth, it feels like we’re finding our ‘swagger’ without losing our Brummie heart.

We’re a community of creatives and entrepreneurs who like giving each other a leg-up, and this will be all the more important as we join together to put the region on the digital map.

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Matthew Bowell – head of client service and operations

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