The ripple effect of Article 50 on today’s digital skills

The UK’s growth and innovation is underpinned by the digital capability of its resident population.

Theresa May’s triggering of Article 50 last month marks the beginning of significant change for the UK. A decision that divided the nation, the next two years will see a transformation from relative uncertainty to what we all hope will be long term clarity. That being said, the vote to leave the EU has already started having an impact, especially when we consider the battle the UK is facing with the digital skills gap. 

The economy, which many feared would decline, has in fact stayed consistent thanks to resilient consumer confidence. But the impact on business confidence is a slightly different story, with investments already taking a hit according to recent ONS  figures. 

This lack of confidence is mirrored in today’s international workforce – specifically those who are looking to find a career in the UK’s technology sector. At a time when the digital skills gap is already a challenge, more needs to be done to make sure the UK remains an attractive place in which to work and invest. 

Is London’s talent pool being compromised? 

The UK’s growth and innovation is underpinned by the digital capability of its resident population. Every sector depends on it, from transportation, finance and retail, all the way to healthcare and public services. Naturally, future developments in these areas demand access to top-class digital talent.

London, currently Europe’s leading technology hub, offers huge opportunities for those wanting to work on some of the most exciting technology projects in the world. This brings about significant skills migration from Europe, and further afield, to the UK. However, while skills mobility remains, we’ve noticed a reluctance in the top digital talent coming to the UK, with a 10 per cent reduction of skilled workers from within the European Union relocating to the UK since the Brexit vote last June. The opportunities are still here, but the confidence to come to the UK and reap these prospects isn’t. We can certainly assign this to the uncertainty and lack of clarity from the government that Brexit has left in its wake. 

This trend is also being felt at a business level. Some of our clients are apprehensive about increasing their investment in the UK, given current uncertainties. They need to expand technology teams quickly and efficiently, which means they would rather invest in a location that can give them a healthy supply of talent to meet their objectives, which they may not be able to cannot guarantee here in the UK. 

We’re already seeing an increase in best-in-class developers taking roles in European cities like Zurich, Lisbon, and Berlin, which continue to be fast-growing hubs for tech innovation. Plus, they’re easy to do business in. The UK must remain an attractive place to work to compete with these cities which are rightly benefiting from the uncertainty. 

The government has a role to play 

To address this, the UK needs to create a company culture that attracts and retains digital talent, and this is where both businesses and the government have a role to play.  

First, by making skills mobility easier. This means no border restrictions and a limit to visa requirements and regulations, giving all the European Union countries confidence that we are still open for business and that it is easy for people to move between countries to find the right career. Making life difficult for international talent to work in the UK is one of the biggest hindrances we face – it needs to be an open playing field. 

Second, the government is continually looking to remove the competitive advantages of being a contractor, most recently seen in Philip Hammond’s budget, where he abandoned plans to raise national insurance for self-employed workers in the UK. Government policies are failing to recognise employment trends like the gig economy and the increase in flexible freelance opportunities. The best skills need to be able to work in a flexible manner, and taxing contractors is going to place more strain on what is already a competitive and sometimes unreliable form of employment. It’s about protecting and encouraging freelancers to work in the UK tech space, not making life difficult for them. 

And finally, we should also be encouraging as many of our British-based professionals to be trained up and re-deployed into the technology sector. Whilst this is a medium-term solution and isn’t going to solve the skills shortage overnight, a steady pipeline of home-grown talent is vital. Investing in technology academies aligned to the needs of UK’s businesses would be a great start. 

The UK and its international workers need clear communication, flexible visas and promises that a digital career in the UK is a reliable future. 

How can businesses safe guard their talent pipeline?

Although Arrows Group has a global client base, Article 50 does pose an extra challenge for our UK clients. To make sure business remains steady and the right skills are easily available, we’re encouraging them to expand their global footprint and operations to where the talent is located, while also being proactive in expanding their pipeline of homegrown UK digital talent. 

The UK needs to significantly increase public and private investment in educating the UK workforce in digital capability, especially in areas like information security, software development, data innovation, and artificial intelligence. Now is the time to address these issues by making sure the right strategies are in place to find those sought-after digital skills quickly. 

In the wake of Brexit, the government has assured us that the UK will remain open for business, and that we’ll welcome the very best global talent with open arms. For British businesses to compete fairly across European markets, we hope that the government will stay true to its word and support cross-border business. In the meantime, businesses must expand their global outlook where possible, while continuing to nurture the exciting digital talent they already have in the business. This way, we can tackle the digital skills shortage together, and head-on. 

Although Arrows Group has a global client base, Article 50 does pose an extra challenge for our UK clients. To make sure business remains steady and the right skills are easily available, we’re encouraging them to expand their global footprint and operations to where the talent is located, while also being proactive in expanding their pipeline of homegrown UK digital talent. 

The UK needs to significantly increase public and private investment in educating the UK workforce in digital capability, especially in areas like information security, software development, data innovation, and artificial intelligence. Now is the time to address these issues by making sure the right strategies are in place to find those sought-after digital skills quickly. 

In the wake of Brexit, the government has assured us that the UK will remain open for business, and that we’ll welcome the very best global talent with open arms. For British businesses to compete fairly across European markets, we hope that the government will stay true to its word and support cross-border business. In the meantime, businesses must expand their global outlook where possible, while continuing to nurture the exciting digital talent they already have in the business. This way, we can tackle the digital skills shortage together, and head-on. 

James Parsons, Founder & CEO, Arrows Group
Image source: Shutterstock/ESB Professional