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Digital Skills Festival: Conference Day 2024

Conference Day 2024: what can we expect for the tech industry 2024?

This year’s Conference Day brought business leaders, startups, agencies and stakeholders together to take a look at the regional outlook for the tech sector, as well as to consider the effects of fast-emerging technology, such as AI. 

As part of the annual Digital Skills Festival, Conference Day was sold out ahead of time, and saw the launch of the new Skills Snapshot, panels talks, a keynote speech from Ecom and first-person experiences from our MentorHER and apprenticeship programmes. 

AI was of course a hot topic running throughout the day, with discussion focusing around the importance of a human-centred approach. There was a consensus that businesses are looking at how to use generative AI to augment what humans are doing, rather than completely replace it. 

Skills Snapshot 2024 launched 

The new Skills Snapshot, which focuses on conversations and focus groups with a range of Manchester Digital members, was introduced by MD Chair Alison Ross and Vice-Chair Tom Amies-Cull. Overall, the report looks at how skills, talent and diversity intersect and work together to create the right elements for a successful tech ecosystem. 

While VC investment has dropped and redundancies sadly rose last year, the overall outlook for 2024 is broadly positive. Usually our research finds that the number one most searched for job role is programmer/ developer but this year found that has moved to AI roles. 

However, 55% of businesses state their lack of AI adoption is due to a lack of finding the right talent. This shows us that the lack of an AI talent pathway could cause a slowdown of adoption, plus wage inflation over the next few years. 

Keynote speech - looking ahead to 2024 

Our keynote speech also focused on the state of play for skills and recruitment for 2024, by looking at past trends. Titled ‘Understanding the past to predict the future of the digital skills economy’, the talk was given by Ecom MD Rob Sugden. He summarised that 2024 was definitely looking more positive after a difficult 2023, and that tech businesses would cautiously hire contractors before committing to permanent staff. He also said that candidate confidence is growing, after high numbers of redundancies last year, which creates a healthy movement in the jobs market. He also confirmed that AI is likely to be a huge growth market this year, and that businesses would be committed to bringing people back to the office, and would look at good long-term employee retention strategies. 

A spotlight on ethics in AI 

A panel talk titled ‘Ensuring the balance between ethics and innovation in a workforce supported by AI’ brought together experts Elizabeth Scott MBE, Executive Director at the Turing Innovation Catalyst; Alex Meehan, Data Science Product Lead at the Co-op; Ignasi Pizarro, Director in Gen AI Financial Services at GlobalLogic; John Tredinnick, Digital Learning Consultant at AtkinsRéalis and was hosted by Lily Stanton, Principal Consultant at AtkinsRéalis.   

There was a great discussion centering around a human-focused approach, ensuring we don’t replicate existing bias, putting ethics and stakeholders at the centre of design and how to ensure that employees don’t disregard guardrails put in place because they want to innovate. 

Question Time panel 

Our Question Time panel was hosted by Katie Gallagher and brought together Rakesh Maharaj, Co-founder and CEO at ARMA Academy; Dr Opeoluwa Aiyenitaju, Lecturer in Business Information Systems at MMU; Rebekah Drury, Senior People Business Partner at and Alison Ross, Chief People and Operations Director at Auto Trader. 

Discussion gravitated towards AI both in the workplace and education as well as looking at how we ensure that graduates have the right professional and people skills when they start work too. 

Wellbeing at work with AutoTrader 

Sophie Ratinckx, Senior People Partner and Hannah Graley, Head of People Operations shared their journey of how they navigated the changing world of work over the past few years and developed a new programme called More Good Days at Work. 

They told us how Auto Trader adapted very quickly to the challenges of moving everyone to home working, and then the shift to flexible working. Their three takeaways for a succesful well-being programme at work were: 

  • A strong mental health network 
  • Build a community 
  • Find the right external experts 


We welcomed a truly inspirational fireside chat about our new MentorHER programme, which sits under the overall Digital Her programme, which was hosted by Dr Nicki Clegg, Industry Stakeholder Manager, STEM Learning. 

She encouraged mentor Elaine Mullan, Head of Marketing and Business Development at Corlytics and mentee Bekki Walker, HR Coordinator at IMS to talk us through their journey. It was clear they had developed a great bond and relationship and both had got a lot out of their mentorship journey. 

An apprenticeship journey 

We also heard from Tay Duncan, who is an Apprentice Software Developer at Auto Trader. He used to work at a call centre, but during the Covid pandemic he got really interested in how technology could be used for efficiency at work. Having successfully joined the Manchester Digital Apprenticeship programme in September 2022, he’s been working on accessibility for the Auto Trader website, as well as automation tools. It was amazing to hear about his whole journey and how much he’d developed both technical and professional skills in such a short time period. 

We’d like to thank all of our sponsors and Manchester Digital members for supporting another successful and insightful Conference Day. 

The Digital Skills Festival headline sponsor is Auto Trader, while the strategic partner is Manchester City Council’s Digital Strategy. The Conference Day sponsors are Ecom and AtkinsRéalis, while Talent Day sponsors are BAE Systems and Tracsis. Digital Her Day sponsors are and Global Logic. Education partners are the University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Salford. Discover Digital Apprenticeship Day is sponsored by the BCS. The festival is also sponsored by Bruntwood SciTech.

We’d also like to thank FareShare for joining us to tell us about their mission and their projects in Manchester. Manchester Digital are happy to support FareShare and all their amazing work.

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