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Russ Shaw

Founder, Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates

The latest immigration reforms will ease the skills crisis, but they won’t solve it

“It’s a great time to be in tech in the UK”. Those were the words from the UK Prime Minister when she recently announced £2.3 billion of private investment in the sector, to coincide with London Tech Week.

The PM’s statement is very much true, and it was backed by the success of the tech festival, which once more captured the attention of the international tech community. The series of events taking place across the capital not only reinstated the significance and value of the country’s tech sector to the wider economy, but also showcased London’s role as a leading global hub for innovation.

London Tech Week was emblematic of why London is regarded as a top technology centre and a preeminent destination to start and scale a tech company – the entrepreneurial spirit, ambition and collaboration were in full swing throughout the week.

But perhaps most importantly, the week created a platform for discussion on how we can best ensure the sector is able to prosper.

The tone was set by the Mayor of London with the launch event, which highlighted the importance of nurturing the next generation of talent and engaging the entire community through the Mayor’s Civic Innovation Challenge. To add to the Mayor’s initiative, London First released its Skills Commission report, outlining what needs to be done to build the skills of all Londoners.

For all the innovation and growth that is to be applauded, there was an overarching theme that spanned throughout the week – access to talent. It was encouraging to see all the positive rhetoric from government figures, and we need to ensure this now translates into action, leading to demonstrable progress.

Tech London Advocates has led the charge by setting the ambitious target of securing one million workers in UK tech in order for Britain to remain a leading tech hub. As the sector expands and the demand for skilled digital talent continues to grow, this must be viewed as a core objective.

To achieve that the education system must accurately reflect the digital skills that are demanded by the private sector. Coding, programming, data analytics, as well as soft skills like creative thinking and problem solving must be an integral part of the education system.

If the current pace of change is anything to go by, the public and private sectors must work closer now than ever. We need a dynamic education agenda that is responsive to technological advancements and fits the demands to a changing economic landscape.

Taking immediate steps to address issues of diversity can help to support educational reform. For too long the tech sector has unacceptably failed to engage large proportions of the population and bring in a diverse workforce that is ultimately of great benefit to tech companies.

As showcased during London Tech Week, progress has been made on this front. TLA Women in Tech, Code First: Girls, UKBlackTech, to name but a few, have been at the forefront of this issue. These are examples of organisations doing great work, but we have to continue campaigning for change until the workforce accurately reflects our society.

It is essential that we use London Tech Week to build further momentum – a festival on this magnitude can act as a catalyst, sponsor change and ignite new attitudes.

The answer to the current talent deficit is not just to be found in Britain’s borders – we must look further afield. TLA has been campaigning for reform of the immigration system relating to tech and calling for urgent change that gives businesses the access to skilled overseas workers that are vital. It would appear that the government is at last engaging on this point, having listened to the sentiments of the UK’s fastest growing sector and committed to amending outdated immigration policy.

The new ‘Start-up’ Visa announced by the Prime Minister is a great step in the right direction, as is the change to the annual Tier 2 Visa allowance. These policies will help to welcome entrepreneurs and innovators from aboard at a higher rate, ultimately proving a tremendous benefit to the digital economy.

The latest reforms are a welcomed first step, however, they are not yet the solution. Much more is to be done to build an immigration system that does not stifle progress, but rather propels the British tech sector to new heights.

A global outlook that uses London’s international links and historic network of economic connections to our advantage must be the way forward.

London Tech Week showed the power of building bridges and conveying the message of an ‘open Britain’. Events demonstrated the strengths and diverse expertise of the sector, as well as the immense potential to grow a business and invest in innovation.

The festival was a celebration of all that is great in UK tech. We should now use the convening of such an engaged community to build momentum, address the most pressing issues and craft a prosperous future for our fastest growing industry.