Opinion

Extra visas not enough to keep tech economy – employers must take action

4 min read

10 August 2018

Following the recent spate of government resignations about the new Brexit strategy and Theresa May’s subsequent reshuffle of her top team, Tech City is paying close attention to see what comes next.

Prime minister Theresa May has announced plans for a removal of a visa cap for skilled migrants. Traditionally, skilled workers’ applications made via the so-called tier two route was capped annually at 20,7000.

The change May introduced means that hundreds of additional places a month for other highly skilled workers – like IT and tech professionals – have now been freed up. But this is not just for tech. So, Silicon Roundabout must battle other sectors for filling their much needed vacancies.

Matt Hancock, former digital and culture secretary and newly appointed health secretary, revealed more tech-specific immigration plans. He claimed in a speech at TechNation that new startup visas will be introduced in 2019 which will act as an updated version of the old graduate entrepreneur route to residency.

It will have a Dragons’ Den style approach so that accelerators and entrepreneurs can choose who has the best ideas and then the visa scheme follows. Hancock also claimed the government doubled the number of exceptional talent visas and is updating immigration rules so that world-leading scientists and researchers endorsed as “exceptional talent” can apply for settlement after three years in this country.

This is a step forward, welcomed by the technology sector which is facing acute talent shortages. Despite this, the tech economy in the UK has been thriving for years. TechNation reports that the UK’s digital industries contribute £97 billion a year to the wider economy, with 1.64 million people being employed in the digital sector which is growing twice as fast as any other sector.

But the same report showed that access to talent and investment continue to challenge tech communities across the UK. More emphasis is needed on training opportunities for UK tech workers.

Brexit has exacerbated this. The tech sector is in danger of lagging behind other European countries in a post-Brexit world. Talent is the number one issue for any startup founder or company being built in the UK today. May and her government may have attempted to calm the waters with the visa cap removal extension, but that is not enough to keep the startup scene in London thriving.

It won’t enable us to lead the way ahead of the startup hubs of Paris, Berlin, and others in Europe. Sure, the sheer number of unfilled jobs will need a wholesale review of our country’s immigration policy, but given the global talent and skills mismatch, it’s not just good enough to hire talent from elsewhere. We need to home grow our own workforce through upskilling and reskilling and changing the education system.

The private sector in the UK can’t just wait for governments. It must take matters into its own hands in order to battle the current digital skills gap, which will worsen post-Brexit. A growing number of employers are planning to spend more on automation, robotics, and training to circumvent the tech skill shortage in Britain. But it is the latter that is most overlooked.

To empower the workforce of tomorrow to fulfil their potential, enterprises need take the lead in future-proofing their people by offering them the best learning experiences. Only then can we create a world in which everybody has a role to play in the future of work.

Rajeeb Dey MBE is the founder of workplace learning platform Learnerbly and graduate jobs platform Enternships. He also co-founded StartUp Britain, a national entrepreneurship campaign launched by Prime Minister David Cameron in 2011 and is a vocal supporter of social enterprise, serving as a trustee of UnLtd, the Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs for over 10 years.