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The UK must take a global approach to technology skills to remain internationally competitive post-Brexit

Article 50 has officially been triggered and the process of the UK leaving the European Union is now in full swing. That much is certain. But many people and businesses are left wondering what the future holds for them as the nation leaves an institution that it has been part of for more than 40 years.

One of the biggest challenges will be finding new ways to demonstrate to businesses how the UK can remain competitive on the global market. Leaving the EU and in all likelihood, the single market, will mean the UK has to work much harder at an international level, proving that it remains a great place to trade and work with going forward.

The technology industry is at an advantage, as it is currently thriving. A recent report from Tech Nation finding that the UK is the leading force in Europe in the digital industry space, attracting £28bn in technology investment since 2011, £17bn more than France and £18.7bn more than Germany.

It’s clear than the industry will continue as a key growth and export power for the UK, as it becomes independent. We have already seen some of the major players in the sector commit to the UK in the long term, with firms such as Apple spending £8bn on a new UK headquarters at Battersea Power Station, while Snapchat recently established its European HQ in London. But, we cannot afford to be complacent and must look to cement the tech sector as a key growth opportunity for the economy.  Keeping our technology sector performing at a high standard means fostering the right skills, to ensure the UK can deliver the services and requirements that are in demand.

Technology is rarely ever designed to meet the needs of one specific area; most organisations working in the sector develop devices to meet the needs of a global market. As such, if the UK want to remain competitive on the world stage, it needs to demonstrate that it has a workforce with the capabilities that aren’t simply relevant to the UK market, but meet the needs of worldwide businesses and consumers.

Clearly, there is work to be done to accomplish this. UK employers seeking to fill core IT occupations posted 365,000 job openings in Q1 of 2017, or 14% of all job postings for the quarter, according to a CompTIA analysis of job advertisements. Technology positions are in demand, but finding the qualified staff to fill these positions will not be an easy task.

Previously the UK has taken an insular approach when it comes to developing digital skills. School curriculums have proven difficult to update on a regular basis to meet the demands of the changing technology landscape, while the Government’s track record with vocational qualifications could be better, with only one of its diplomas still currently in existence. As well as this, apprenticeship standards have been traditionally based around loosely guided requirements and outline only a basic level that needs to be met in order to qualify for the position. This means that those on apprenticeship schemes and in our education system are trained in a set of skills, but are not obtaining globally recognised qualifications that demonstrate excellence once completed.

Once out of the European Union, firms will want to see evidence that the country’s technology workforce has the capabilities to meet their demands, and simply being able to say that employees have completed apprenticeships or education programmes will not be enough. We need to go beyond basic standards and instead be pushing beyond this, providing a workforce with world class tech training, and the talent that businesses need.

To address this, the UK needs to change its approach to training digital skills. The Government has started to take steps to address this issue, announcing in the recent budget a new ‘T-Level’ qualification which will change how we teach and manage technological education and increase the number of training hours by 50 percent. This will help increase the amount of technologically skilled employees the country produces going forward, which will certainly not go unnoticed. However, there is a significant opportunity for the UK to work with external and global industry bodies to enhance this development as well. This can be done through providing those on technology courses and apprenticeships with the opportunity to obtain meaningful and recognised certifications that provide a benchmark that is relevant and understood at a global level, or developing course content and learning outcomes that have an equal effect. It is only by benchmarking our skills in this way that we will remain internationally competitive, and convince technology organisations that a newly independent UK is a great place to do business.

The UK is entering into the unknown and there is still a long way to go until we have a clear idea of how Brexit will unfold. However, what is clear is that it is only by taking a global approach to skills, that we will maintain our global competitiveness in technology. By moving away from an insular approach, and integrating certifications and qualifications which are recognised around the world into our education system, we will be able to deliver a workforce with the skills that organisations in the sector need, and cement the UK’s role as a technology power for years to come.

Graham Hunter is vice president for Europe and Middle East, CompTIA