Tech can turn the economic tide – but only if we all work together

It’s no secret that tech is a UK economic powerhouse. In 2022, the UK’s tech ecosystem was valued at $1 trillion – the third highest in the world – and in 2019, digital contributed over £150bn in GVA (gross value added) to the UK economy.

As inflation soars, the economy is stuttering. Supply chain disruptions, challenging markets, and the energy crisis are all contributing to a cost-of-living squeeze.

We know that one of our strongest growth markets is technology – with tech’s GVA contribution growing on average 7% each year since 2016 – and supercharging this is where I believe the answer to boosting the economy lies. But first we must clear some of the industry’s hurdles to success and we must do that together. With the prize of economic growth in mind, it has never been more urgent for the tech ecosystem and the industries which support it to collaborate. Before it’s too late.

The strength of the UK tech ecosystem

Last year, the UK cemented itself as a global tech hub as it reported its highest ever level of investment, with over £29.4 billion invested across tech start-ups and scaleups. At the same time, nearly 40,000 tech companies were incorporated - a 62% increase compared to 2020.

The UK is leading the way in multiple tech sub-sectors and in multiple regions. London has become an economic centre for many of these businesses, acting as a global tech services hub and a launchpad for innovation. In 2022 so far, more than 1,000 UK tech start-ups raised investment, with the FinTech sector accounting for half of the $25.6 billion raised.

All of this points to a booming (and growing) tech economy, with the UK hosting some of the best technologists in the world. Crucially, the industry shows no signs of slowing down – with 70% of techUK members planning to increase tech investment and 60% to increase headcount.

Sustaining this growth will be key to economic security. The issue we now collectively face, however, is we do not have enough digital talent to deliver to the tech industry.

The digital skills shortage

The pandemic led to an unprecedented urgency to move to a digital world, and that demanded more tech experts – and quickly. 46% of tech companies are still struggling to recruit for digital roles.

Simply put, there is not enough digital talent in the UK to be delivered and, without that being addressed, none of the UK’s growth opportunities can be realised. There is a fantastic appetite from the business community, but the challenge is, how do you find the people?

With a looming recession soon to hit, the only way to combat these collective problems is to come together. Without the right talent in place, it will be impossible to accelerate R&D and innovation, to achieve digital business transformation, and to build a more sustainable infrastructure. And that’s everyone’s problem.

How to save the economy

It’s time to start thinking outside the box. We are fortunate to have some of the most mature and capable staffing markets and communities in the world, which can support talent attraction. We also have some of the most experienced consultancies and system integrators, access to some of the best and fastest-growing technology vendors, and some of the most forward-thinking clients when it comes to becoming digital-first.

It's important that we lean into that experience now to improve opportunities in the UK. We need to start having frank conversations with all invested parties to generate new ideas, increase dynamism, and to become more receptive to trying new things.

This includes being open minded to trying and combining different talent models, such as a workforce mix of permanent, contract, employed consultant, and SoW to acquire the same skills. And the same goes for the talent itself. Static expectations around years of experience risk leaving organisations behind. But companies that are willing to consider upskilling and cross-skilling adjacent talent (those with similar skillsets or tech stack experiences) suddenly have a much wider pool to choose from.

If we carry on with the same tired solutions, our potential for growth is capped. Organisations need to be open to new ideas, meanwhile recruiters, vendors, and consultancies need to collaborate to discover new solutions. Communication will also be important for agreeing some of the more fundamental challenges the UK tech scene faces, such as R&D and the impact of Brexit, in order to guide the government on legislation that will support rather than hinder tech growth.

We’re already seeing some great examples in the market of businesses working to close the gap. Recruit-train-deploy models are rising in popularity, with recruiters working alongside tech vendors to train up high potential talent they have discovered, ready to be deployed on client site or on a consultancy project. Clients are working more closely with recruiters to widen their reach – such as building flexible working into a job spec to encourage more diverse talent. Meanwhile, tech vendors are working with companies to upskill talent faster.

For example, Google has offered up to 500 Career Certificate Scholarships for SMBs to help them grow and develop high-impact tech skills though upskilling existing employees. Additionally, Google will be visiting towns and cities across the UK to teach small businesses and individuals digital skills, CV writing classes and coding – providing a welcome boost to re-skilling and upskilling opportunities.

Some UK businesses have promised to recognise Google’s Career Certificates in a joint effort to drive down skill shortages, with the BBC, BT, Deloitte and John Lewis creating an Employer Consortium to consider candidates who have completed career certificates for roles within their companies.

A fully-optimised technology industry is one of our best chances of economic recovery and long-term growth – but we have to do this together.

Recruiters need to deliver

Just as organisations have a responsibility, recruiters too need to be innovative and committed to solving customer problems by creating different solutions. By presenting the right solution for the customer, regardless of commercial gain, recruiters can focus on delivering the right results for growth.

As recruiters, we need to be honest, take the trust we have been given and ensure our clients get the best solution. As well as some of the best tech businesses, the UK is also host to some of the best recruiters, with the most experienced hands. Confidence is key and recruiters have a duty to know their market inside-out. The easiest answer isn’t always the right one, and we need to ensure the conversations we have are clear, candid, and always with the best of intentions. In return, clients need to trust in the expertise of those they work with – and where there isn’t trust, look to specialists in digital like Lorien instead.

We should be striving towards expert-to-expert engagement focused on collective goals – energising the tech market to counteract the current state of the economy. When we work together, the road to success is easy. Technology is our biggest success story and our best chance of a swift economic recovery. But only if we pull together and partner properly. It is truly, ‘all for one, and one for all’.

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