Getting young people into tech can be a difficult task, especially if they have preconceptions about the degree they will need or where all the best jobs are. However, Leeds has a champion for this cause in Mel Parker, founder and director of Graft Talent. We had a chat with her to talk about the challenges of preventing young talent from leaving Leeds, and how the Leeds Digital Festival is helping.
“I worked in recruitment for 15 years and then I worked at Leeds Beckett Uni for 10 years, coaching students and graduates into jobs in digital and tech,” said Mel. This experience taught her all about the obstacles to getting talented young people to join the Leeds tech community, as well as how to surmount them. As a result, she decided to set up on her own and founded Graft Talent.
“Graft is here to work with graduates and future talent in the City, to prevent them from leaving Leeds and feeling like they have to go elsewhere to get really good career opportunities,” said Mel. “ So I work with SMEs and scale-ups to ensure that they also get access to a really good talent pool here in the North.”
Mel has decided to take her expertise and share it at the Leeds Digital Festival, running an event about accessing tech and not talking yourself out of a tech career. “In my world, I see a lot of people saying I don’t have the right or the most relevant degree, and actually it’s not always about that,” said Mel.
“The degree can be interchangeable. It’s more about the personality, behaviour and attitude of the individual. There are so many degrees that do translate well into technology anyway. So we’re going to put on an event to say come and have a look, see what it’s all about and then at least you know whether it’s something that’s going to suit you or not.”
Mel has seen plenty of people who have convinced themselves that a tech career isn’t for them, when actually they would be well-suited to the industry. “We often think ‘that sounds like a great career’, but most of us will find excuses to talk ourselves out of doing something,” she said. That’s why she has decided to run the event dedicated to helping people get involved with the kind of skills they would need to be part of the sector.
“What I’m trying to do is to create an environment in which people can get to know working in an agile environment, for example, or getting involved in some problem-solving, having a bit of fun with the environment of tech,” she said. “Then obviously if they want to take that further, we’ll be there to point people to how to do that and have a successful career.”
Mel is part of the Leeds Digital Festival’s steering committee – something she described as “a massive privilege” – which has allowed her to contribute towards its success. As such, she’s seen how it can be the perfect platform for running an event like hers.
“The Leeds Digital Festival is basically the best launchpad to try and educate and work with people around the subject matter,” she said. “The work it’s done steadily over the last couple of years has created people who are really keen to get involved, whether it be putting on events or attending events, so I think it’s one of the best ways to get messaging over in and around the industry and what it can provide.”
The Festival has also provided Mel with a platform for dealing with the main obstacle to getting graduates and students into the Leeds tech industry: a lack of information. “I think the future of getting people into tech is the continued effort to talk about it in as many high profile places as possible,” she said.
“I think people always think you’ve got to be a techie person, and I hear that bandied around a lot, and I don’t even know what that means. I don’t think there is one ‘techie person’. The more we discuss it, the more we have open forums, the more we put on events, hopefully more people can make a decision that will ultimately be right for their career choice.”
With the Leeds Digital Festival helping bring tech to the forefront of the City, Mel is hoping to show talented young people the wide range of career options that the sector has to offer. If you’re interested in getting into the world of tech, but don’t know how then a good place to start would be her event during the festival.
To find out more about Mel’s event during the Leeds Digital Festival or to book a place please visit the listing on Eventbrite