It seems we need to add another item to the list of certainties in life. As well as death and taxes, the fact that UK SMEs will continue to suffer from a tech talent drain post-Brexit is now a given.
And while there is a worldwide skills shortage, the UK has deliberately taken aim and shot itself in the foot. It’s not just Brexit but the labyrinthine visa processes and insufficient education system, that makes finding and retaining tech talent so difficult. For SMEs especially, when competition is extremely high for niche technology skills, the issue of keeping their workforce intact can be make or break.
Since the early 2000s, London has been a great tech talent magnet with easy access for Europeans as well as many lifestyle attractions to offer the millennial technologists. These workers are typically young, very versatile, and will now follow the work to more accessible tech centres around Europe. Paris will soon be home to the largest start-up campus in the world; Berlin, Madrid, and Luxembourg all have their competitive advantages and are eagerly bidding to bring talent to their cities …there’s a lot of choice and headhunting abounds. The UK is sending a negative message to these professional nomads and Europe, not surprisingly, will be happy to see its talent base replenished.
Then there is the red (or should that be gaffer) tape around the current visa application process. You need considerable resources to throw behind this to navigate the requirements and regulations, which isn’t really on the table for SMEs. Filling the gap with ‘home-grown’ talent is also tough – schools and universities across the UK can’t produce enough local talent quickly enough to meet demand in the short to medium term.
So what can UK SMEs do to stay in or ahead of the game? Here are three ideas to plug the tech talent drain:
1. Relocate work, not the company. SMEs can fill their resource gaps without having to arrange multiple visa, simple by using offshore expertise in Eastern Europe, Asia and South America. Instead of moving your company to access the talent, SMEs can relocate work as part of their value-adding supply chain. Manufacturers have been doing it for years!
- Invest in smarter technology. SMEs should make use of AI applications that are beginning to tackle a lot of the low-level coding and design tasks in roles currently covered by humans. SMEs can stay competitive and from developing a truly international ‘virtual workforce’ of coders and systems designers to fill the skills gap.
- Lobby for a new educational curriculum. SMEs should be pushing for their governments to create more relevant tech apprenticeships and intern programs at all levels of the national curriculum, from iGCSEs to Masters degrees.
On the government’s part, a few more tax breaks for tech training and upskilling wouldn’t hurt, boosting investment in growing and nurturing future talent that can equip SMEs for the future workplace.