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BBC Boss shares his vision for tackling the North West’s digital skills gap

Gordon Burns’ interview with Peter Salmon, BBC Director of England, at Bolton University was always going to be a fascinating conversation. With a childhood growing up in Burnley, adventures in Borneo and then a rapid rise through television including Corrie, Wallace & Gromit and Head of BBC Sport, we can be proud of this northern lad done good. In 2008, Peter was appointed Director, BBC North responsible for creating the BBC MediaCity in Salford and, whilst it was an arduous task as you would expect, was up and running in time for the Olympics and has been a huge success story for the North.

I went armed with an obvious question about the ever-developing digital economy in the North and how, with our growth in ecommerce, online retail and digital agencies, the BBC expected to deal with this huge shortage in skills.

I didn’t get the chance to ask as this was all passionately covered by Peter who sees this as a crucial part of the ongoing success of not just the BBC, but Media City and the North’s economy. Of the 2700 BBC staff at Media City, 750 sit within digital and are at the forefront of app development, iPlayer, the ‘Red button’, personalisation etc and 150 more are needed.  Peter has a very clear vision of what is required and a blend of experienced permanent staff, contractors and an army of ‘junior talent’ have created a hugely successful team that he sees as crucial for the BBC’s future.

The BBC have 5000 digital trainees in the pipeline from colleges and universities around the country, they have partnered with 50 organisations from Teen Tech to BT, Code Club to Google, they have a hugely talented in-house resourcing team and also work with the best digital recruitment agencies.

A few years ago, Forward Role was exclusively appointed for a large digital recruitment project for one of our major clients based up here and, because of their sophisticated vision, it was apparent that there was a significant shortage of digital talent in such areas as UX and online customer journey. So much so that as part of our service, we needed to do a big relocation drive to attract digital candidates to the region from London. Times have now changed. With Manchester as our hub and with businesses like the BBC at the forefront of our digital push, the North West is certainly now closing the skills gap and as a result, Londoners now see opportunities up here that they haven’t seen before, which makes it an attractive relocation prospect. Not only that, but we are also growing our own and with talent nurturing businesses like the BBC, the region will continue to develop.

So, what I have learned is that with a long term vision and approach to developing your own creative and digital talent, building on the strength of your own brand to excite future employees and partnering with the best industry experts, you can avoid the pain of the current candidate shortfall.

The North West is in an amazing place at the moment and MediaCity and the BBC are at the heart of this digital evolution. Forward Role is ideally placed to continue to support the North West’s brightest and best brands so if you need support in developing your hiring strategy across Digital and Creative, please give us a call.

Brian Johnson is Digital Director at Forward Role, a leading marketing and digital recruitment agency based in the North West.  Forward Role have built the digital teams of some of the most exciting pure play businesses in the region, including and To find your ideal digital candidate or your next digital opportunity please contact


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