Community Interest Company Baltic Creative recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) to help address skills gaps in the creative and digital industries. Jennifer Lee, our Liverpool Office Senior Partner, caught up with Mark Lawler, Baltic Creative’s Managing Director, to discuss the new partnership and his views on the skills Liverpool needs to thrive post-pandemic.
Thanks for joining me Mark. Baltic Creative is playing a huge part in supporting the development of creative and digital industries in Liverpool by providing affordable space. But how important are those industries to the city’s recovery from the impact of the pandemic?
I see parallels with the recovery from the 2008 financial crisis. What we saw then was lots of innovation and new businesses appearing. And we’re seeing that again now.
The creative and digital industries are well set to thrive in this environment and to help the recovery. They’re resilient and hugely collaborative – over 70 percent collaborate with each other. They can move and change quickly. Even back in April last year, we were seeing that.
This is a real area of growth for the city. We’re now seeing a number of hubs of these companies emerging across the region, in areas like Birkenhead, Runcorn and Southport. And their importance is being recognised by our regional partners, the City Council and other local councils.
Of course, there have been huge challenges. We’re a commercial landlord providing space to these small creative and digital businesses, and we saw over 60 percent turnover of our footprint over the past year. But we’re already full again and have a healthy waiting list. That just shows the resilience and vibrancy of this industry.
Mark, you recently joined other key influencers from Liverpool at our Voices of Place: The Skills City workshop, where we discussed how we can reskill our cities. What skills do the small businesses you support in Liverpool need to flourish?
I wouldn’t profess to being a skills expert. But it’s clear that we need more young people with computer science skills. In particular, there’s a real shortage of affordable web and app developers. They get scooped up by large employers. Small creative and digital businesses of one to five people simply can’t compete.
How can we provide those skills?
We’ve just agreed a memorandum of understanding with LJMU, which I’m hoping will provide a blueprint for tackling skills issues
Together, we’ll be creating more opportunities for students to connect with creative and digital businesses. We’re doing that by supporting a host of activities, including meet ups, social events and presentations.
But where this moves to the next level is through being in the same place, by collaborating more through our assets. We’re going to have a senior lecturer from the Liverpool School of Art and Design set up a studio on our campus for the next 12 months. And LJMU is supporting post grads in setting up five businesses based at Baltic.
That gives post grads starting their own businesses the opportunity to network with the existing businesses at Baltic, to learn from them and collaborate. It also gives those existing businesses access to the skills coming out of LJMU.
The big win here will be if we can take this proof of concept and develop it into a bigger, more fixed relationship. That will provide the basis for addressing the skills gap on an ongoing basis. It will give LJMU a much clearer understanding of the challenges the businesses are facing and help them identify where the skills gaps are.
One of the potential issues we discussed at our Skills City workshop was the impact of hybrid working on attracting and retaining talent. We asked, if people can work from anywhere, does that make the market for talent more competitive and ‘place’ less important? But from what you’re describing, place – being together in the same physical space – is absolutely critical.
That’s right. We’re embedding a relationship between education and business through the agenda of being in the same place.
The businesses based at Baltic don’t collaborate because that’s a nice thing to do; they do it because it’s essential to their success. And that’s made possible by being in the same place and part of the same network.
There’s no doubt that our workspaces are changing. What that means for us is providing more shared communal spaces, more large social meeting places that enable collaboration. It will also mean providing more transit space that facilitates chance encounters when people are moving through our buildings from point A to B.
Mark, one final question. What does success look like for Liverpool? How will we know we’ve got out skills strategy right?
Success will be strengthening the international image of Liverpool as a centre of skills and education. It will be being held up as an exemplar of how you support young people and empower them with the skills they need.
We’ve got some of the best universities in the UK and they’re doing fantastic stuff in the city. I want to see them working more closely with our creative and digital industries to create higher value jobs for the city and regional economy.
For more insights on tackling skills, read our latest report - Voices of Place: The Skill City