Wendy Devolder

Dear next PM: Stem the tide of our worsening tech skills gap!

This open letter to the next Prime Minister from Skills Matter CEO Wendy Devolder first appeared on ElectronicsWeekly.com. It is reprinted here with permission.


wendy-devolder-1200px-webDear next P.M.,

You will know that London is now the undisputed home to Europe’s fastest growing tech cluster.

It’s not clear, however, if you or your main challengers intend to take action to deal with the crisis in which our capital’s tech businesses find themselves.

They can not find the talent to keep up with their own growth. So you and your government must take action.

Tech is a golden place to work right now according to all the most recent research. The Business Growth Fund and Barclays say 27% of all job growth in London is generated by the tech and digital sector. And businesses questioned by the latest Barclays’ Fast Growth Tech survey predict they will grow by 11 percent on average over the course of the year, which is more than four times faster than the UK’s 2015 GDP forecast (2.6 percent).

Technology professionals are also receiving more pay rises than pay cuts. The Technology Industry 2015 Report by Mortimer Spinks and Computer Weekly reveals the proportion of permanently employed technology professionals getting pay rises has continued to rise from 57% in 2013 through to 64% in 2015.

And yet 80% of data-intensive businesses still struggle to find the skills they need, suggests research co-produced by the Royal Statistical Society.

The current Home Secretary Theresa May’s response: a proposal in December, 2014 to immediately kick out foreign, highly-skilled technology graduates from British universities after they complete their studies, preventing them from entering the UK’s technology job market.

May’s proposal was widely criticised by the tech sector and ultimately blocked by Chancellor George Osborne. Yet the growing negative rhetoric in the UK around immigration is badly hurting our tech sector. Compounded by the UK’s visa restrictions, it’s now harder than ever to find highly-trained international talent, let alone experienced and highly skilled local talent that is up to speed with the needs of our world-class tech firms. And let’s not forget all the other industry sectors, whether banking or retail or publishing, for whom technical talent and expertise are vital for developing and maintaining a competitive advantage.

T​he solution to our tech skills gap is to attract the very best tech talent from around the world to our capital. But little is being done to make this happen.

Despite initiatives like Mayor Boris Johnson’s talent visa to attract the best and brightest in tech from around the world to London, the UK’s visa restrictions remain unnecessarily bureaucratic and the quotas are too low and too narrow.

We have so many successful homegrown innovators to celebrate, including companies like Mind Candy, Huddle, and Novoda, all based and founded in London. And the capital’s digital scene continues to enjoy fantastic growth. According to The Tech Nation Report by Tech City, there’s been a 92% increase in new digital companies incorporated between 2010 and 2013 and there are now more than 250,000 jobs digital jobs in London.

This means the urgent need for the very best talent to design, develop and grow products and services is stronger than ever – something we see first hand evidence of at Skills Matter, with daily requests from companies across all sectors about how and where to find skilled people to fill vacancies.

We help by working with companies and communities to inspire and develop talent and skills, connecting software engineers with world renowned experts to develop technical, behavioural and process capabilities. I’ve also long campaigned for easing visa restrictions through my engagement with No 10’s Tech City initiative, UKTI, Tech London Advocates and the House of Lords.

But of course as our tech sector grows, the problem will only get worse. So if our capital city wants to continue generating quality jobs and remain a leader in burgeoning sectors such as fintech, dealing with the technology ‘skills-gap’ is imperative now.

​Future Prime Minister, this topic’s a winner for you. You need to spell out now what you’ll do to support London’s continued growth into a world-class tech hub.

Wendy Devolder, CEO of Skills Matter

Skills Matter’s Wendy Devolder shares her thoughts on Tech City in The Observer

Skills Matter CEO & Founder Wendy Devolder was recently featured in an anthology of technology insiders offering their insights on Tech City in The Observer. Just for context, Tech City is a government initiative launched by David Cameron in  November 2010 that set out to stimulate the – already organically grown! – conglomerate of tech companies in London’s East End. Two years on, The Observer gauged a handful of thought leaders  from the tech community. Have a read here what their verdicts were!

Wendy in the Observer