Exclusive: London is the Silicon Valley of Europe, but ‘can not afford to sit on its tech laurels’
Forbes heralded London recently as the Silicon Valley of Europe as the capital proved to be “Brexit-proof” with around 18,500 new startups registering in 2021 alone.
Although hybrid working has been adopted by many companies, London remains a place where giants such as Google, with its King’s Cross ‘landscraper’, nestle with newer companies such as fintech boomer Revolut, as well as smaller startups and related firms and agencies.
Moreover, venture capitalists are keen to put their money as well as their teams there, with vast amounts of fresh cash flowing in.
However, there is a problem. And not a small one. The city is facing a talent squeeze.
The number of vacancies has been exacerbated – or boosted, depending on which way you want to look at it – by The Great Resignation and there’s a real shortage of people with the right tech skills.
“London can’t afford to sit on its laurels,” warned Gabriel Pizzolante, the UK managing director of Ironhack. “If the city is going to make the most of this boom, it needs to equip its workers with the digital and technical skills needed to do the job.”
Pizzolante told City A.M. that “the vibrant city needs to attract great people from other countries, as well as developing home-grown talent. And despite the clusters of ‘For Sale’ boards throughout the capital, it’s still a place people want to live and work – even if companies can’t fill their tech vacancies fast enough.”
Investment in technology and infrastructure is growing, so now is the time to do the same for people, he argued.
“With a rich and diverse culture plus great networking opportunities, London is the ideal place to work and train in tech. So where will these new recruits come from and how will they get the training they need to do justice to the growing, buzzing industry?”
As headlines shouting about ‘The Great Resignation’ begin to cool off, the fallout is real. What’s the next step for those who have resigned?
“Many people want to embrace remote working, contracting or make the leap to self-employment and consultancy,” Pizzolante said. It’s about achieving the lifestyle that they want, using the skills they already have.”
Job-hunters need to look at their transferable skills and grab opportunities to retrain. A career in tech might not have existed in the same way as it does now when people entered the job market ten or 20 years ago, but that doesn’t mean it’s out of reach, he stressed.
“Teachers who’ve sharpened their problem-solving skills, particularly over the last two years, have the potential to become web developers, whereas those in the struggling creative industries such as photographers and designers could turn their talents to UX/UI,” Pizzolante noted.
London has a flourishing tech community, and being part of it means being part of a bigger team.
“Support is always on hand and the opportunity to move on comes around frequently with plenty of networking opportunities,” Pizzolante said.
“While university graduates would have to start at the bottom of the ladder, new starters equipped with the tech skills workplaces need today are already on a higher rung.”Gabriel Pizzolante, co-founder of Ironhack
“Remote courses for in-demand skills such as web development and data analysis now have networking and practical projects built in, making graduates employable the moment they leave, and they’ve already made the connections they need to find their first job.”
Workers feeling the pinch
The cost of living crisis is here and the demand for higher wages is growing. Job security is at a premium, whether that’s via consistent remote work, a hybrid model or a return to the office.
“It doesn’t matter which of these options work because in London wages are still higher than in other areas of the UK,” Pizzolante said.
A recent ONS survey found that employee growth in London is still higher than the rest of the UK – and that median pay in the capital still outstripped the regions. The London borough of Wandsworth saw wages of £3,192 compared to £1,737 in Leicester.
And when it comes to job security, careers such as data analytics are seeing a growing demand for employees with the right skills.
In fact, London, more than ever, is the place to be if you want a big name on your CV, Pizzolante continued.
“It’s not just Google and Apple who are growing their base in the city, but fast-growing fintech unicorns such as Marshmallow, a family-founded firm which aims to revolutionise car insurance.”
“The buildings, company cultures and diverse population leads to a vibrant mix of employment opportunities, from household names to tech-for-good upstarts,” he said.
Finally, UK companies are facing a tech skills gap – and that’s fuelled by a gender gap. Only 20 per cent of girls chose computer science at GCSE level in 2020, a ratio that continues through to university courses.
“But with the rise of remote training, more women can choose to learn key skills at a time and pace that suits them,” Pizzolante pointed out.
“While women with children have taken on the bulk of the household labour during the pandemic, many are looking to return to the workplace now the situation is more stable and having the most up-to-date skills enables them to get a higher paid job, even if it’s a world away from the one they might have left back in 2019,” he concluded.