In our monthly Western Mail column, Acorn's Dave Sadler addresses what Brexit would mean for the ICT arena.
I've spoken before about the IT skills shortage in Wales and the UK and as the possibility of Brexit looms, there is a danger that the problem could get worse.
The Welsh Government is to be applauded for the excellent work that they are doing in bringing business to Wales.
Companies like Smartpipe Solutions, Alert Logic, Sigma Systems, Monitise and CGI have all set up in Wales in recent years and are thriving. This in itself acts as a great advert to other companies considering a move over the Severn Bridge.
To run this world-class ICT infrastructure, some 25,000 people work in the sector, contributing over £2 billion a year to the Welsh economy, with thousands more performing technical roles within other sectors.
Research has shown that employment of IT professionals in Wales is forecast to grow at a rapid rate up to 2020 – over twice as fast as the average employment growth in Wales.
UK-wide the industry needs to find 745,000 additional workers with digital skills to meet rising demand from employers by 2017 - we simply can’t meet that with UK employees alone so we need to tap into the free flow of talented IT professionals that the EU provides.
The government’s Science and Technology Committee has recently released some fairly shocking figures about the state of the IT industry in Britain. Committee members believe that the skills gap is costing the UK economy an estimated £63billion a year in lost GDP.
Every year, 3,500 graduates leave Welsh universities and colleges with qualifications in Computer Science and other ICT-related disciplines, but even that isn’t enough.
In other European countries they’ve been quicker at upskilling so we have found that places like Spain, Portugal, Greece and Bulgaria provide us with the calibre of staff that we need for these relocating companies. If we leave the EU, we will lose access to these talented, valuable workers.
Of course, there will be those who argue that we should be filling Welsh jobs with Welsh people, and that would be the ideal. However, at the moment that simply isn’t an option and we need these people to help this industry thrive.
In the long term, we’ll get there. Initiatives like the Cyber Academy, Software University and Digital Tuesday which see the government, industry and education joining forces to upskill.
The recent Donaldson Report was extremely critical of the IT curriculum in schools and the hope is that on the back of his research, there will be broad changes across IT education to bring Wales up to scratch. Professor Donaldson specifically supported the introduction of three ‘cross curriculum responsibilities’, including digital competence, which all teachers will be expected to deliver.
Science and Technology Committee Chair, Nicola Blackwood MP, said: “The UK leads Europe on tech, but we need to take concerted action to avoid falling behind. We need to make sure tomorrow’s workforce is leaving school or university with the digital skills that employers need.”
My hope is that when people vote on Thursday, they consider the bigger picture and realise that no industry can survive and thrive in isolation. Whilst there are lots of great things happening for the future, they can’t happen fast enough, we need to do something to address the issues now which is why the passage of skilled workers across the EU is so important for this thriving industry.
Dave Sadler is Head of IT Recruitment for our booming IT & Digital Division.