Britain may have one of Europe’s most vibrant digital sectors but a new report from Coadec reveals how skills shortages and Brexit worries may create challenges in the future
Tech talent is certainly something the UK has in spades. Over the years, startups like Funding Circle, Unruly and Love Home Swap have cemented Blighty’s position as a leader when it comes to digital innovation. However, a new report has unveiled four challenges that the UK must overcome to maintain its position as tech top dog.
The Coalition for a Digital Economy (Coadec), a policy group representing tech and digital startups, has just released a report titled A Global Britain: From local startups to international markets. After speaking to the leaders of about 150 UK startups and holding roundtable discussions with investors, founders and policy experts, Coadec has revealed four areas that the UK government must address to clear the way for the future success of the sector. It’s calling on the government to provide a steady pipeline of skilled domestic workers, help startups recruit talent from abroad, secure investment for new enterprises and remove any international trade hurdles.
Time and time again, startups cite the domestic tech skills shortage as one of their biggest problems. Coadec partly attributes this talent gap to the varied quality of university tech courses, which has left 11.7% of graduates unemployed for up to six months after finishing their education. To overcome this, Coadec suggests that the government expands the current apprentice scheme to include software development. It also suggests that it makes changes to the educational system so that all 16-19 year-olds would be expected to study maths and anyone wanting to pursue further or higher education had to display basic literacy and numeracy skills.
But boosting the domestic talent pipeline isn’t enough. Given how reliant Britain’s tech industry is on tapping into foreign talent, Coadec's report stressed the need for businesses to continue to hire from abroad. The organisation is imploring the government to introduce a work visa that lasts for at least six months for workers who have studied at top institutions or have passed a standardised, high-level exam in specific programming languages. Additionally, Coadec suggests that the government reduces the bureaucracy that startups have to go through to recruit foreign talent.
Startups don’t just rely on talent to grow, though. They also need money. To ensure British businesses have a steady stream of funding in a post-Brexit Britain, Coadec is encouraging the government to seek continued collaboration with the European Investment Fund, much like Israel and other non-EU countries already do. Other suggestions in the report included incentivising pensions funds to invest in long-term scaleups and ensuring that the government replaces the funding that may be lost when the European Regional Development Fund disappears.
Specifically looking at Britain's digital prospects post-Brexit, Coadec suggests that the government sees to it that the European Commission classifies the UK as a country that’s strong on data protection so that startups can more easily trade with other countries. It also thinks the government should engage with other EU countries on matters relating to data movement and tariffs to prevent British startups from falling behind.
Given how close we are to the Brexit negotiations beginning – the prime minister has pledged that she’ll trigger article 50 in March – the UK economy may be in for a bumpy ride , if the last few months are anything to go by. Let’s hope the prime minister takes Coadec’s advice on what British tech startups need to heart.