Amanda Follit knows the effect of hearing the wrong words at the wrong time: “Many moons ago, I was put off anything to do with computers by just one teacher, and that changed the path I took for a while,” she recalls.
Despite the setback, she found her calling and is now a senior manager at EPAM Systems, Inc. Amanda sits on the Liverpool City Region’s Digital and Creative Board and is an Enterprise Advisor with a passion for bringing digital into schools.
For years, she has helped to inspire the next generation of digital talent while connecting educational organizations with numerous industries. The overwhelming support for Digital Day—BIMA’s annual event that brought the world of digital careers to 10,000+ students during the month of November—is especially gratifying and ‘light years away’ from her founding experience of bringing digital to schools.
Placing expertise in the classroom, even for one day, can also be helpful—not just for students—but to the teachers and their knowledge as well because they also need support in the fast-changing world of technology.
Amanda knows the benefits are not one-way. So, at a particularly challenging time for young people entering the workforce, what does the digital industry need to do to protect their – and its – future?
James Macmillan found a very different route into the industry inspired by his father, a film editor. “I spent many happy hours in his edit suite handling film as a child. As a result, when I left university, I initially pursued a career in post-production which has been a great foundation for my career so far.”
Now Business Development Manager at ITV, James has helped ensure that starting out on a new career means real experience, not making tea.
“Working with young people is of paramount importance to ITV Content Delivery. We take great pride in helping individuals at the start of their careers. We’ve established great relationships with universities in the region and (global pandemic notwithstanding) we have a steady flow of students coming through our doors to learn first-hand about how we process digital content.
“Any ITV content seen on TV screens and catch-up devices is processed by our team in Leeds. When students come to us they are active participants within the team – encouraged to take part in team meetings and help the department meet their targets and deadlines. There’s no photocopying or tea making in our team! In the past 3 years, we’re had over 30 students on work experience with us, and I’m happy to say that we’ve recruited five as full-time employees – some have gone on supervising others and some have gone on to restore classic films from ITV’s archive. It’s great to work with people at the start of their career, to develop their skills and give them the best possible start to their career.”
James is equally enthusiastic about the role Digital Day plays in the digital talent ecosystem: “I jumped at the opportunity to get involved with Digital Day as soon as I heard about it. The subject this year was so important and one that needed to be tackled.”
But Amanda and James both know the benefits are not one-way. So at a particularly challenging time for young people entering the workforce, what does the digital industry need to do to protect their – and its – future?
How do digital organizations benefit from getting involved with initiatives like Digital Day?
Amanda: Organizations benefit in numerous ways. Not only is it a great day for employees to do something a bit different, but it’s also highly rewarding. They can be inspired by the students just as much as the other way around. Organizations often create bonds with the teachers and the schools, and those students always remember that company for the future.
What do new entrants to the industry bring to the table? And what do they lack?
Amanda: They bring fresh eyes and experiences that are critical for organizations to progress, whether it be with products or services. Yet, what they lack is experience. It’s harder for young people to gain experience, but it’s something organization are looking for. Self-learning is a critical tool for young people these days if they want to set themselves apart from other candidates.
James: “The biggest things young people bring to the table are enthusiasm, energy, passion and diversity. It’s great working with people from different walks of life, with fresh perspectives and outlooks.
“The biggest thing we’ve found lacking is communication skills – being able to talk to and email individuals and/or groups of people and express ideas can be daunting, as can talking to people higher up the organisation – but these are essential skills to harness, especially at the moment when face to face conversations are so few and far between.
“The best way to address that is to provide a safe space for individuals to learn and work so they can make mistakes without fear and learn from those mistakes. The last thing we want is to stifle that energy and enthusiasm!”
What do organizations need to do to better support young people?
Amanda: Get involved with education. They are absolutely begging for companies to come and support them—whether it’s becoming a STEM ambassador, enterprise advisor or working with schools on careers in their sector. Find a way to get involved. Digital Day can be the beginning of a wonderful journey.
Everyone has been affected by the pandemic this year. What do you expect the impact to be on young people entering the industry right now?
Amanda: There are so many barriers in their way right now, especially for those who live at home and may not have the optimal space to work from home. Integration into a new job can also be harder when you are remote.
James: “It’s got to be tough starting a new job in any industry at the moment, so I really feel for anyone in that situation. It’s doubly important that any new starter is made to feel as welcome as possible, with regular comms and check-ins to ensure they’re comfortable with their workload and what’s expected of them, but also to know that they’re not alone and they can reach out for help whenever they need, and that they know where to go to get that help. I think it’s really important that new starters are made to feel part of a team, so regular team briefings and fun sessions to integrate the new starters with established team members is essential.”
How should the industry and government address that?
Amanda: We are fortunate to already have a Remote by Design™ infrastructure in place at EPAM to support a globally diverse workforce. However, digital organizations need to ensure that they’re supporting young people with additional benefits for working from home. That means, not just providing basic equipment like a desk or mouse pad but arranging regular team-based meetings to understand company culture as well as a few non-work-specific meetings so that people are socialized.
At a government level, it would be good to see a fund for young people to help them set up a home workspace. Provide advice. Fund training by sector to show young people how to work remotely.
What do you feel about the current state of the talent pipeline?
James: “I’m very encouraged by the talent pipeline we’ve seen in the last 3 years. We’ve had some fantastic success stories from young people at the start of their careers.
“Having a basic understanding, passion and interest in post-production is our key requirement when recruiting. As technology continues to evolve and offer ever more innovative solutions to workflows and tasks it’s important that employers and employees stay on top of current trends.”
What happens if the industry simply maintains the status quo?
Amanda: We are already in a situation where we have gaps in the marketplace. That will continue and widen, especially post-pandemic, as more and more people rely on technology. Innovation will stagnate without new eyes or a generational input.
And if organisations cannot hire the right staff, they cannot promote them to a management layer, and they cannot underpin that with a new wave of recruits. That is the way you grow. Without being able to recruit you cannot scale your organisation.
I was listening to Dame Stephanie Shirley recently [who launched this year’s BIMA Conference] and she said something that numerous leaders have articulated in the past: ‘Hire people who know more than you do. You need to hire people who can do work that you can’t, and you should never be afraid of doing that.’
Young people can bring that knowledge, that new way of thinking. We need to give them the opportunity and experience to show it.