“If you find the right space, and you find the right opportunity, you will get there – it’s all about your determination.”
What makes Manchester a great place to live and work in 2018?
We’ve got some great educational institutions. There’s a real heart of science in the UK here with the Manchester Science Museum, Manchester University, Manchester Metropolitan, and places like the University of East Lancashire nearby that all produce really great, attractive talent from around the world. It’s cheaper to live here than it is in London, which is brilliant, and it’s an easy city to get around when you’re in it.
As we saw after the Manchester Arena attack, Manchester has a very kind spirit. It has this inherent collaborative nature to it which I think really lends itself to the technology landscape of today. To be able to deliver a great product, you really need to have a collaborative spirit and have an ethnicity fusion as well. I think now even Amazon have recognised it by occupying the Hanover building at NOMA and bringing lots of really important technology jobs here which is great for the region.
What does Manchester need in terms of new talent coming through?
There is a big misconception that when we say we need more people in technology, people assume that you have to be a developer but there’s actually lots more roles that we need to fill. We certainly need more engineers and developers, but there’s also the soft skills side of technology – the service side. You need the researchers, the business analysts, the delivery managers – they’re all really critical roles. A brilliant guy who used to be our Head of User Research said to me that some of the best user researchers start out in call centres. They’re always on call to customers and they’re really good at user research but connecting those people with the opportunities is something that I don’t think we do very well at the moment.
When I go to talk at schools about careers in technology, we try to talk about it in a way that kids can relate to. For example, a delivery manager’s job is to enable the team to deliver a project, knock down barriers, and be very organised. So, we ask the kids if there’s one person who always arranges everything in their friendship group because they’d probably make an amazing delivery manager. We try to relate it BACK to where they are rather than them thinking ‘I have to learn how to code if I want to get into technology, I better find something else’.
What would you say to people who feel they haven’t ‘made it’ yet?
There are always things to learn and your career is in your hands. Sometimes you’ve got to take risks to get to where you want to be. If you’re unhappy where you are, and you want to make a change, then find ways you can do that. It is hard, but it’s never too late to get into the career you want to. You hear about actors who only became famous when they were in their forties and we see the same in our apprenticeship schemes. One of our oldest apprentices in our funeral care business was in his sixties. He was actually retired, but it was something he’d always wanted to do. There are loads of examples which show that if you find the right space, and you find the right opportunity, you will get there – it’s all about your determination.
There will always be that element of who you know too. If you’re interested in technology, go and find your local meet-up groups and meet people. It doesn’t matter if they know more than you, the groups – especially in Manchester – are always very welcoming and happy to help people on their way. You find that in lots of different sectors too.
In what ways would you like to see Manchester businesses giving BACK to the city?
We have a lot of talented kids out there. When those kids get to choosing their GCSEs, they’ll often apply for work experience to help make their decisions, but we’ve found that a lot of businesses don’t put much effort into giving them a really good experience. Every business will have jobs that never get done or times when lots of people are on holiday and all hands on deck tend to be needed – around Christmas time and in the summer holidays especially. I would encourage businesses to look at offering paid work-experience and paid internships, really give these kids the opportunity to see what they can be, get that experience on their CV, meet people, and deliver some value to your business as well. Kids living in houses where they’re struggling to put food on the table, who are having to work jobs in shops, or warehouses – these people could be the brightest sparks, and one of the best opportunities for your pipe-line.
Businesses should also get more involved in schools with promoting apprenticeships as if they’re not a second-class option to a degree. A lot of colleges are still measured on how many kids go on to university, not how many go on to full-time employment or apprenticeships. I spoke to Andy Burnham at AllBright’s FoundHER Festival and he was talking about putting a clearing system in place for apprenticeships – one place where you could go to see and apply for all the apprenticeships that are available. That’s something that he really wants for Manchester and I think that would be really useful too.
What do you think Manchester needs to do to raise its profile on the International scene?
I think it needs to promote itself much better. The usual trade mission stuff with people in suits is portraying in an old-fashioned way – I know there are things springing up in Manchester to try and combat that way of reaching out to the international community.
What would you say are the essential qualities that people have to have to be part of your business?
We’re very passionate about our community, but we’re very different. We’re concerned about what impact we’re having on our community, what positive impact we can make by making X investment or Y and just doing things that other businesses can’t because of the revenue pressures that they might have or the boards that they have to report to with the shareholders – we don’t have that. That’s one of the reasons why I love working at the Co-op because of the opportunities to be business- minded and very commercial, but also to still have a heart at the same time.
How do you think the working world has changed since you started your career and how have these changes affected your industry?
I’m part of a very strange group, you have Millennials, and Generation X and I’m in the group in-between, which is called Xennials – children who spent their early years without technology but spent their formative years with it. It brings about a kind of different perspective on technology and how it helps and hinders your world.
In the industry I’m in, we do everything from food to funerals – it’s all very different – so we still have quite a lot of paper-based activities in our branches. Our funeral business has just launched a new system called Guardian which is a digital project with a user-centered design to really help the funeral business give the best possible service to clients when they come in. We worked with the staff to create a new tool that would help them arrange funerals for the client. It helps with cost reduction and has made their lives so much easier. We’ve also implemented a web app that allows staff to see their shifts and lets the area managers get by with less paper. We’re very proud of what we’ve delivered because it’s really made a difference to our colleagues.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome in your career?
Being a female in technology hasn’t always been easy – actually, being a female in business hasn’t been that easy. Since I started my career, I’ve been faced with imposters syndrome now and again. Getting the respect to be listened to and not being seen as a female first and then someone who has actual knowledge of something to contribute has been a constant thing.
One of the biggest challenges was when I came BACK from maternity leave after I had my daughter. I didn’t want her to go through the same things the things I’d gone through in school and into my career. I didn’t really know what I could do, until a couple of brilliant men told me to go and speak because people would want to hear what I had to say. I joined a group called Ladies Who Code which is a meet-up group who support people who want to get a career in technology and I decided to run an event and show a film called Code Girl. I didn’t expect much from it, but 250 people showed up. I think the proudest moment of my life was stepping on that stage and speaking. It was absolutely terrifying, but it was such a big leap and I ask myself ‘if I hadn’t done that, would I be doing what I’m doing now?’ and I don’t think I would be.
What industries will be booming in Manchester over the next 5 years?
Anything that has tech at the end of it probably. There’s a bit of property tech coming, retail tech, probably a lot more now with Amazon landing in the city.
‘10 Most Influential Mancunians’ sees some of Manchesters most inspiring professionls talk about the future of our city and share their career journeys. If you’d like to get involved with 2020’s ‘10 Most Influential Mancunians’, please email email@example.com.