Last week at City Hall I joined a panel of leading industry figures to discuss the Mayor’s Draft Economic Development Strategy (EDS) and assess whether the proposal can support the future needs of London’s growing tech sector. The Assembly honed in on a number of industries, which included digital and tech, to gather insight on how best to meet concerns and support innovation and skills across the capital.
London’s digital infrastructure is a critical pillar that supports the tech sector enabling it become the home of some of the world’s most innovative, creative and disruptive businesses. London has been a leading destination for entrepreneurs and investors because of the capital’s capacity to facilitate growth and prosperity, underpinned by digital connectivity.
Yet even with the high levels of growth, the capital’s digital infrastructure – the ‘backbone’ of the tech sector – is being thoroughly tested. There is a need to ensure that adequate and meaningful investments are made which act to future proof London’s digital capabilities.
It is very important that the Mayor’s office make a strong commitment to tackling London’s ‘not-spots’, and recognise that competitiveness and productivity are directly impacted by connectivity. Realising the economic benefits from a fully integrated, connected city is essential for the future success of the capital.
Delivering super-fast fibre to businesses across all boroughs can relinquish some of the adverse effects of costly commercial office space as tech companies can be created and operated out of all thirty-two London boroughs. Providing easier access to super-fast broadband outside the most popular postcodes is a real advantage and essential to help realise the true potential of the entire city.
In order for London to continue to thrive on a global scale, the capital must also be at the forefront of mobile connectivity. 5G mobile internet is an essential next step forward that must be at the centre of London’s digital future and one that is accessible across the capital. As discussed by many at Mobile World Congress this week, deployment of 5G is already scheduled for parts of the USA later this year. We must ensure that London and the rest of the UK is 5G-enabled sooner rather than later.
Another key pillar of London’s tech success is its highly skilled talent. A deep pool of world-class tech professionals has been an integral part of the city’s ability to reach high levels of growth and investment in recent years.
Yet the preeminent speed of technological change is undoubtedly going to have a severe impact on employment in the not so distant future. It is therefore essential that education in digital skills within schools, colleges and universities equips students with the tools to find meaningful employment and meet the evolving demands of the growing tech sector.
There is a clear role for the private sector to help schools and colleges to deliver educational programmes that provide pupils with the necessary hard and soft digital skills that businesses require. The private sector can also work more effectively with schools and career advisors on the future of work and the types of skills required.
The Mayor does not have the funding to develop the model of learning, build the facilities and train the teachers, that growing businesses require in a short time frame. Investment from the private sector is needed to fund the resourcing gap and ensure the talent pipeline becomes a world-leading workforce capable of driving the digital economy to the next level.
It is essential that we rethink the process of educating society, and that digital skills should be incorporated within a new approach to life-long learning. There are several sectors, including high street retail, which are going to witness radical changes resulting in a large numbers of job losses. We need the ability to reskill and upskill workers in new digital skills beyond the age of 18. Employees facing the effects of disruptive technologies in the workplace will need the necessary skills in their later years, and we must make sure that life-long learning is available and enables people of all ages and backgrounds to be fully skilled for the future of work.
Upgrading London’s digital infrastructure and making sure that the capital remains an attractive ecosystem to build the strongest tech businesses should be primary goals for the Mayor’s EDS. Combined with a fundamental shift in the approach to education, we can guarantee London’s prosperous future and ensure it becomes a world-leading tech hub.