In his monthly Western Mail column, Matt Southall evaluates the potential of Wales' tech / digital sector.
At last week’s Cardiff Business Club, Cato Syversen CEO at Creditsafe Group talked about the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This Fourth Revolution represents new ways in which technology becomes imbedded within our societies, impacting all economies and industries.
The First Industrial Revolution shaped modern Wales and I see no reason why the Fourth Revolution can’t have a similar impact. The nature of digital technology allows people to work anywhere, with the right infrastructure in place, and there is no reason that Wales can’t be a digital hub to rival any.
Certainly, the teams behind the Cardiff Capital Region and Swansea Bay City Deals believe this to be the case. Both have made proposals to capitalise on this thriving sector, with Cardiff introducing measures to drive digital innovation across the region and Swansea hoping to transform the area into a digital super-hub.
Earlier this year, the Tech Nation 2017 Report analysed the tech sector UK-wide and the results were pretty eye-opening.
In 2016 UK digital tech investment reached £6.8billion, that’s 50% higher than any other European country and the turnover of digital tech businesses reached £170 billion, an increase of £30billion in just five years. There are now 1.64 million digital tech jobs in the UK, and the digital sector is creating jobs twice as fast as the non-digital sector.
Wales has made its contribution to these stats, with 17,471 tech jobs and the sector’s gross value added (GVA) reaching £392million (average between 2013-15).
Often stats tell a misleading story but not in this case, the specialist tech / digital recruitment team here at Acorn is inundated with excellent opportunities for tech professionals, especially across South Wales.
This can in large part be attributed to the excellent work the Welsh Government is doing to attract inspirational tech companies like Smartpipe and Wealthify to Wales. It is genuinely exciting to have ground-breaking, market-changing businesses like these setting up on our doorstep.
Another great example is AMPLYFi, a Cardiff-based start-up that has developed an artificial intelligence software platform, DataVoyant; something that wouldn’t have seemed possible even a decade ago.
Subsequently, skilled tech professionals are increasingly in demand across the region, and according to Tech Nation 2017 the average digital salary is now £43,459, nearly £10,000 higher than the average advertised non-tech salary.
What is crucial now is that we continue to find the right people to meet the ongoing demand. By its very nature, the tech sector changes quickly and we need to make sure that we keep up.
Despite increasing efforts from all the main stakeholders, I am still worried about the skills gap here in Wales, and across the UK. I’m obviously not alone in this as in his Spring Budget Chancellor Phillip Hammond announced ambitious plans to improve parity of esteem between academic and technical education, putting financial steps in place to enable access for all students. I hope that this will cause a shift in attitudes and ultimately lead to a narrowing of the skills gap.
I definitely agree that we need to get to people when they are young and spark their interest in the sector while they are still deciding the path they want to take.
This is such an exciting, creative industry; something that really comes across in the companies we recruit for and also in the people we place into tech jobs. Time and again they tell us that their goal is to influence people’s lives, to create something that ‘makes a difference’, and the beauty of this industry is that anything is possible.
It is this enterprising and innovative spirit that is being celebrated at the WalesOnline Digital Awards 2017, of which we’re a proud sponsor. The awards aim to recognise and celebrate digital excellence in Wales, highlighting the areas of growth and development.
Of course, it isn’t enough to pique young people’s interest, there needs to be something tangible that allows them to develop that interest into a sustainable career.
I believe that one of the best ways of engaging and training young people is through apprenticeships and with the Government’s Apprenticeship Levy due to kick in next month, this is a perfect opportunity for us to harness the next generation of Welsh talent.
It isn’t only important for the tech sector itself that people are ready to face the challenges it poses, Oxford University has estimated that within the next 25 years, 47% of the jobs being done today won’t exist. However, the working population will be larger than ever so we will all need to be doing something. By ensuring that the next generation is prepared and that we have systems in place to give them adequate, on the job training, I hope that we will be able to meet this challenge head on.
Matt Southall is Group Managing Director of Wales’ leading recruitment and training group, Acorn www.acornpeople.com