The quest for digital skills
As a forward-thinking strategy for rebalancing the economy, it makes sense to aim for the UK being the best place in the world to start, run and grow a high-tech company. The internet is where the growth is: it already accounts for a greater share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the UK than in any other G20 country, and businesses that take advantage of the web grow three times as fast as their offline peers.
What’s more, Britain has a great tradition of design and innovation and more world-leading universities than any country apart from the US. If we can get a few other ingredients right, then there is tremendous potential for growth powered by high-impact digital entrepreneurship.
Top of the list must be access to talent. Digital businesses cannot run without smart, talented people. Walk into any start-up incubator or hit the online jobs boards and you will see a wall of adverts for coders and designers. Ultimately we have to get better at teaching our children how to create software rather than just use it, as well as putting more emphasis on both science and the creative disciplines that provide a foundation for working in a digital economy.
In the short term, we have to make it easier for start-ups struggling to complete their teams to bring highly skilled employees in from overseas. If we want future generations of British graduates to have bright career opportunities in the digital sector, then it is critical that we set the right conditions now so the sector can grow and thrive in the meantime.
In recent research published by Policy Exchange, digital businesses ranging from early-stage start-ups through to established international companies talked about the huge benefits of bringing the best global talent into a business. There is a strong sense that today’s digital businesses are facing a global competition for the right people. Developers and coders are less bound by geography than ever before – so there is a huge opportunity for competitive advantage if you can attract them to your business.
The benefits of attracting overseas talent is exemplified by experience in the US – particularly California, which is home to nearly half the top 100 digital start-ups in the world. Companies like Intel, Yahoo!, Google, eBay and YouTube were all co-founded by immigrant entrepreneurs. They are now major global businesses. We need to create the right conditions to ensure that the UK lives up to its potential to be a world leader in the digital economy.