Technology is now one of the fastest growing industries in the UK, making up nearly 10% of the country’s GDP. Venture capitalists have been quick to see the growth potential in the sector, pumping £6.6bn of investment into new businesses since 2010.
This growth is not limited to London. In the North West, and Manchester especially, 83% of technology businesses have grown in the last year.
As these regional clusters continue to develop, the recruitment and training of qualified, skilled workers has become ever more important to secure the sector’s long-term future. In efforts to fill a skills gap among UK workers, technology companies have increasingly looked beyond our own borders and our recent skills audit found that one in 10 tech workers in the North West are now sourced from the EU.
However, with the government saying that the free movement of EU workers will end in March 2019, combined with the on-going negotiations about the UK’s future in the European Union, the technology industry’s impressive growth could be at risk.
With a lack of talent at home it is only natural that businesses will look overseas for workers who can fill the roles they need - even if it’s only a short-term measure - and making this more difficult could be very damaging for businesses.
To give an idea of the scale of the problem, in the North West nearly half of businesses (47%) say that coding and development are the most in-demand skills but 32% also say they are the most difficult jobs to fill.
As well as the problems businesses face in finding people to fill roles, the skills gap is creating other problems too. According to our research, 51% of technology companies in the North West have been forced to offer inflated wages to entice new staff and in some cases companies have reported 40% increases in developers’ wages in the last year alone.
Immigration has become a constant source of controversy in the UK, but it is vital the government understands that for businesses, the ability to recruit from a wider talent pool is essential when the skills don’t exist at home.
This is not to say that all the responsibility lies with the government and its Brexit negotiations, and there are undoubtedly things the industry - both in Manchester and the wider UK - can do to solve the problem.
Better promotion of technology jobs to younger people, reskilling workers from other industries and upskilling current staff members will all go some way to alleviating the current skills pressures. Manchester is somewhat ahead of the curve in terms of tackling the skills issue, however many of the initiatives are medium and long-term solutions.
Whilst I believe Brexit is detrimental to the digital and tech industry, we are seemingly stuck with it, so the government needs to deliver a concrete plan so companies can develop new retention and recruitment strategies. Until this happens, the government is failing the tech industry.
Follow Katie Gallagher on Twitter: www.twitter.com/katiegallagher