Business must step up to solve the skills crisis and nurture Britain's tech and engineering talent

 
Indro Mukerjee
The Silicon Roundabout In Old Street
Business need to do their part to help people get the skills they need (Source: Getty)

The UK is a world leader in technology and innovation. Having led international technology and engineering businesses over many years, I can confidently say we have the talent and commitment in the UK to compete with the very best globally.

I recognise our technological and engineering talent because I see it at work every day. Since September 2015, I have been chief executive of Watchstone Group. While its legacy, corporate and operational issues are well documented, what is not fully appreciated is the innovative technology and talented workforce which encouraged me to take up the challenge of leading the company in the first place.

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At Watchstone Group, we have committed ourselves to working determinedly to achieve better direction and focus for the company, wrapped in strong governance. We have restructured the business and have not shirked away from tough decisions. We are pragmatists and know that there is still work to be done, but we are better positioned now to make the most of the potential from the businesses we own and operate.

The Watchstone businesses rely on innovative technology developed in the UK. These include: ingenie, which uses data science and analytics, telematics and behavioural psychology to help reduce insurance premiums through safer driving; Hubio Enterprise, which provides award winning technology for insurers to help better manage their policies and claims; and BAS Energy, which utilises technology to enable businesses to more efficiently manage their energy requirements.

The people we have working in these businesses are talented engineers, scientists and IT professionals who are a good representation of outstanding UK talent.

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Despite the skilled workforce available in the UK, we cannot afford to be complacent. With consumers becoming ever more demanding and world markets increasingly competitive, the pressure is on UK companies to continue innovating to stay ahead. To ensure the UK maintains and further builds its outstanding reputation, we need to learn from our toughest competitors: the US and China.

More than anywhere else I have worked, these countries have encouraged innovation by supporting and celebrating entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurial qualities, such as creativity, innovation, risk taking and commercial savviness, are essential ingredients for success. Without entrepreneurs who innovate and positively disrupt industries, nothing would change.

It is important that in the UK we create a similar atmosphere in which these qualities are promoted and the resulting success is celebrated. Our brightest minds should be encouraged to pursue exciting careers in technology and engineering, giving them the opportunities to lead businesses or commercialise their own ideas to launch enterprises which can become the success stories of tomorrow.

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Although our current generation of talented tech workers is highly skilled, we need to ensure a strong pipeline remains to keep the UK competitive. Too often many take the easy way out and blame the government for a perceived lack of action in creating more skilled workers.

However, our politicians can only provide a framework in which talented individuals can realise their potential and technological innovation can flourish, for example through continued investment and improvement of the education system, changes in the tax regime and a pragmatic approach to the movement of talent, particularly in a post-Brexit world. Beyond that, UK business leaders and industrialists must take an active role in either leading or joining initiatives to help address the skills shortage.

Such initiatives do exist and can flourish with the right energy and commitment from their leaders and members. As an example, I am proud to be on the board of the Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies Alliance (semta.org.uk). It brings together employers and education to focus on action on skills. Semta has successfully worked with government but beyond that, has also developed its own programmes with and for its industry partners.

For example, its apprenticeships service, has a proven track record of developing and managing apprentice training in UK technology and manufacturing.

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I also chair the UK Electronics Skills Foundation (ukesf.org) which encourages young people to study electronics technology and connects the brightest young students with potential UK employers. This foundation is an example of a collaboration in which major companies and leading universities, work closely together on practical initiatives to help tackle the skills shortage.

While Brexit will bring challenges, I am confident that with the right private sector initiatives, the UK can remain a world leader of technological innovation for years to come and we must continue to make sure our talented people have every opportunity to realise their potential.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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