Carl Jones: Can the UK become a centre of excellence for the IT industry?

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The UK Tech industry is thriving and set to grow four times faster than GDP this year. A staggering 11 percent expected growth compared with 2.6 percent for the UK as a whole. This is undoubtedly excellent news for the UK economy, as well as firming up its position as a top world player. As a country with a deep pioneering history, could we go further and become a shining example of global IT excellence?

To succeed, there are three crucial factors – continued investment, skills development and accredited leadership.

Investment 

Without investment the UK’s position at the forefront of tech will falter, and maybe even stop altogether. Continued investment is the sustainable fuel that drives technical research and development. A few initiatives have already been set up by the government to move IT forward.

Tech City

Tech City, launched in 2010 to encourage growth in Britain’s digital businesses, has seen London’s so-called Silicon Roundabout become the third largest cluster of technology companies in the world.

And although the focus seems to be on the UK capital, 74 percent of digital firms are actually based outside it, with Bournemouth, Liverpool and Brighton stepping up as major players in the UK’s digital scene. London also comes 4th behind Manchester, Belfast and Sheffield in fastest growing revenue.

Tech North

Launched as part of the Northern Futures initiative, Tech North will receive £2 million worth of investment each year to support major northern cities. The aim is to bolster the area’s already thriving tech hub, so it can compete with international players such as Berlin and Singapore, and match the success of London’s Tech City.

Putting more exposure outside the capital gives our small country a ‘collective-whole’ rocket booster advantage against our bigger rivals.

Infrastructure

And it’s not just investment in tech businesses, it’s investment in the UK’s technical infrastructure that is also vital to our ongoing development and success. Slow broadband and mobile connectivity are damaging factors to our long term growth. For example, how can we expect to be a centre of excellence when large parts of our train network are without phone signal or internet?

Talent and skills 

The skills gap in the STEM sector is no longer in debate, 74 percent of the hi-tech sector are in need of highly skilled staff.

Attraction

Finding talent (and keeping it) is a major issue for a number of UK companies. And Britain is not the only nation in pursuit of technical excellence either, it is competing against the likes of Berlin, Tel-Aviv, New York, as well as the more established players in China and Silicon Valley.

The UK has definitely made headway in attracting more talent by becoming a leader in Finance Technology (FinTech) and using non-EU workers, however with the government reviewing the visa system, we could be faced with an even greater IT skill deficit.

Education

This brings education to the forefront. By making coding compulsory up to GCSE, the government has made a significant step towards addressing the skills gap and encouraging home grown talent.

A long term solution for nurturing talent might require more thought, as well as removing barriers to entry for those considering a career change to tech. However, for now, it’s certainly a positive gesture to the rest of the world. It’s Britain saying we think tech is as important as maths and English.

Diversity

It doesn’t take a computer scientist to see that greater diversity gives a greater talent pool. Being a user of technology is not predetermined by gender or race, so why should being a creator of it? The UK needs to challenge and tackle this issue head on if it is to become a centre of excellence. Not only to set an example to the rest of the world but to also reap the benefits created through the availability of more talent.

The good news is that women are three times more likely to be working in the London start up community than in Silicon Valley. Former New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, cites London and New York as major challengers to Silicon Valley due to the ethnic diversity the two cities offer. This is a huge advantage in the UK’s quest to become a major IT player.

Accreditation

The Software Alliance of Wales (SAW) was set up between 2010 and 2015 to change the IT landscape of Wales, With funding for only 5 years, SAW helped Tech Wales receive the CompTIA Accredit UK Trustmark+ in 2013 in recognition of its ability to develop and deliver top quality IT solutions, support and services. Since receiving the award, Tech Wales has flourished, with a 50% increase in workforce, as well as revenue.

As well as highlighting the importance of investment, it also addresses the topic of an industry-wide accreditation. Currently there is no formalised equivalent for IT. Does tech need formal certification to instil professional responsibility, and industry standards and values?

Accreditation provides a methodology that sets standards for those who work in a variety of industry segments in the UK as a mark of professionalism, competence and responsibility, so why not IT?

This is an opportunity for the UK to spearhead the moulding of a validation process, with which to award tech talent and set the standard for the world to aim for.

So there you have it, not as far-fetched as you might think – just a few tweaks here and there, a major push of belief and continued support from the government and top business leaders. Can the UK become a centre of IT excellence? You bet.

Carl Jones is Founder and CEO of online IT Skills Assessment provider Technically Compatible. A business enthusiast, Carl has worked in the software industry for over 10 years in a number of senior management capacities. Before founding Technically Compatible, he was a board level executive of The Test Factory, helping achieve a successful exit by acquisition before moving on. Carl is a passionate entrepreneur with a keen interest in leveraging best of breed technology to launch disruptive businesses and has keynoted at several international conferences. Holding a Bachelors Degree from Newcastle Business School and an MBA with Durham University  Business School, Carl believes in continual progress in himself as well his business.

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