London is leading the UK’s tech boom – but it needs immigration to stay ahead
UK employment figures published by the ONS last week showed there's no shortage of workers across London and the rest of the country, but that doesn't mean they have the right skills to keep Britain ahead in some key sectors.
Britain is facing a real crisis when it comes to experienced and qualified skilled personnel, especially roles such as security, cloud, social media, big data and mobile – the technical fields that are driving our economic growth.
The UK technology sector is thriving – its companies have experienced growth that outpaces the UK GDP three times over, according to the most recent figures available. True to its reputation as a leading international tech hub, London leads the way for the creation of technical skills.
While this all looks good on paper, Gibbs 3S has found that firms in these fast-growth industries are encountering the most difficulty in accessing the staff they need to expand. Research from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) also revealed that nearly 40 per cent of firms looking for STEM-based staff had problems recruiting – and roughly half thought the situation was worsening.
A lack of access to the right technical talent has a severe impact on a company’s ability to grow, and when international, blue chip companies hosted in London hit a brick wall, it impacts the entire economy. Wages for the most in-demand technical roles have increased as more pressure is placed on a dwindling pool of high-quality workers, which makes recruiting an even riskier proposition for firms.
Companies must ensure they are able to balance the reward of a successful new hire with the risk that they won't measure up, because under-skilled or inexperienced technical specialists can cause entire projects to fail and derail growth plans.
Immigration is key
The shortage of technical expertise is gradually being addressed – last year a record number of students entered into computer sciences, for example. While this renewed interest in STEM skills is encouraging, it will be many years before these new enrolees develop into the kind of experienced, qualified workers our top businesses are crying out for.
While the UK workforce gets up to speed, the answer to the skills deficit may lay abroad. 38 per cent of immigrants in the UK have been educated at degree level, compared with 18 per cent of UK-born workers, and this makes a healthy level of immigration extremely important for fast-growing businesses in need of high qualified, skilled workers. While the onus should always be to recruit within the UK whenever possible, firms must be able also recruit internationally if the alternative is hiring someone under-qualified.
London can retain its title as a world-class technology centre, but companies need to think outside the box to secure the best talent while the skills pool catches up.