Every year we ask startups what their biggest public policy issue is. Every year they tell us the same thing – access to talent. That’s seven years of data, plus lots of conversations in Silicon Valley and in Washington before we began the survey.
In this year’s Startup Outlook Report, of the top five issues of UK tech businesses, access to talent came in highest at 76%. The other concerns paled in comparison: cyber security at 34%, international trade at 30%, corporate taxes at 28% and consumer privacy at 26%.
According to a report by ECORYS UK, 72% of large companies and 49% of SMEs suffer from a tech skills gap. Hired.com’s Mind the Gap report, which examines the UK’s technology skills landscape, found that the UK has a significant gap in data, security, Python, UI and UX. This is largely due to a lack of awareness about job opportunities in the tech sector and gender stereotypes around existing digital roles. Couple this with uncertainty over how Brexit will affect the mobility of talent into and out of the UK, and access to talent, or lack thereof, is undoubtedly a serious concern for the digital sector and the UK overall.
As technology continues to evolve at an unprecedented pace, corporate needs, consumer demand, business infrastructure, and company culture are being transformed too. This means the constant development of new skillsets in the world of technology and across sectors is imperative.
While outsourcing work to other countries is often a go-to solution, doing so creates a brain drain on the UK business ecosystem. When companies outsource their product development or coding to developers in other countries, the knowledge born and cultivated during those experiences remains within those regions. It doesn’t transfer over to the businesses doing the outsourcing. This ultimately creates a bottleneck in the flow of valuable information and in developing technology skills.
For access to valuable tech talent to improve, one solution is collaboration. All stakeholders including the government, private sector and – importantly – educators, need to partner and collaborate.
The government can enforce digital skills development at all stages of education and training. Digital literacy, for example, could become a core subject taught alongside English and maths in school.
Schools, universities and startups can investigate and develop strategies for serving the ever-evolving needs of the rapidly changing tech sector and digitally enabled careers. This needs to happen at a local and national level.
Businesses can play their part in closing the skills gap by executing on diversity goals and partnering with educators and digital leaders. Moving the needle is tough and won’t happen overnight – but collaborating effectively is a great way to start.