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Bridging the technology skills gap: How London can gain one million tech workers by 2023

In his next blog for London Tech Week 2018, TLA founder Russ Shaw explains how the UK tech sector can attract talent and increase its diversity

Catch up on all of Russ Shaw's London Tech Week 2018 blogs:

As London Tech Week progresses, I am filled with a burgeoning sense of confidence in UK tech. The community spirit and ambition is empowering, and I have been truly astonished by the innovation and expertise on display.

This week has helped to lay the path for future success, and we must build on the opportunities that have been presented, foster the network connections that have been created and continue to address the issues being raised.

One consistent theme that has dominated discussion has been talent.

Despite Brexit-related instability, the tech sector has rapidly been making an ever growing contribution to the wider UK economy.

The new 2018 Tech Nation Report ranks London as the second most connected tech ecosystem in the world. Not only do tech jobs boost the economy, they allow for positive spill-overs, as innovative firms use technology to transform traditional industries such as healthcare and retail.

Workers in tech are also more productive than their peers, by an average of £10,000 per person per annum. The economic case for prioritising access to digital talent – both homegrown and from overseas – is undeniable.

If the UK is to remain a leading global tech hub then we must have those with the necessary qualifications in the UK – to fuel growth and sponsor tomorrow’s innovation.

In order to cement London’s position alongside the tech titans of the US and China, Tech London Advocates (TLA) has established the goal of employing one million tech workers in the capital by 2023. This is a bold task given that the current number stands at 300,000, but with immediate action this ambitious goal can be achieved.

There are two paths that must be trodden simultaneously – one is within Britain’s borders, and for the other we must look for further afield.

Fostering homegrown tech talent

Progress is being made on the former as we take steps to empower the youth to enter the tech sector.

The Mayor has launched a £7m initiative to confront gender and ethnic under-representation. Given that only 19% of tech workers are women – simply nowhere near enough – programmes of this kind can help to deliver a new stock of digitally skilled workers from previously untapped demographics. More women in tech is a must.

There are some amazing grass-roots initiatives out there doing great work to address issues of diversity. More organisations are signing the Tech Talent Charter and committing to change, TLA Women in Tech is now the largest TLA working group, stimulating conversation through a strong campaigning approach, and Code First: Girls, is equipping women with the most needed digital skills.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel; the government can learn from these examples, contribute resources and add direction from the top.

The UK tech sector must reflect our society and will benefit from a diverse and fully inclusive workforce. UKBlackTech is a wonderful example of an initiative acting to increase the representation of black and minority ethnic talent.

There is also much progress needed in bringing those with disabilities into the tech sector – we can do more.

The rate of digital transformation now dictates that the education system must go beyond those in schools and colleges. The UK is lacking in its approach to lifelong learning.

To give a sense of magnitude: more than one in three workers may need to adapt their skills by 2030. Demand for advanced technological qualifications, such as coding and programming, will rise by 55% by 2030. We must have the infrastructure to upskill and reskill those in positions set to be displaced.

Attracting talent from overseas

Brexit gives us the opportunity to re-evaluate our position in the world. London has the fourth most international tech start-up workforce in the world, behind only Singapore, Berlin and Chicago. London must be presented as an attractive place for foreign nationals to live and work.

The Home Office is planning to roll-out a new ‘start-ups Visa’ and we should encourage ambitious founders to settle in the UK – but this represents only a small part of the tech ecosystem and will do little to address the growing skills deficit.

With the Home Secretary expected to announce reforms to the Tier 2 Visa rules and remove NHS staff from the allowance, we are starting to see positive engagement from the government.

Reducing the competition between the private and public sectors for skilled overseas workers is a welcomed first step – the priority must be to increase the current cap until supply meets demand.

London Tech Week has so far showcased the capital’s tech community at its very best and laid down the gauntlet for future success – access to talent remains a prominent concern but by taking immediate steps and aiming for one million tech workers by 2023, we can build for future growth.

Tech London Advocates founder Russ Shaw is blogging for daily throughout London Tech Week 2018. Tune in tomorrow for more insights…