London is a city defined by numbers: 11 tube lines whisk us across the capital with ease and efficiency, 22 football stadiums attract spectators every weekend, 40,000 Ubers offer us a comfortable ride home, and 100 languages are spoken in every borough, creating the greatest melting pot in the world.
The city must now strive to add another number on the board: one million people employed in the capital’s booming tech industry by 2023.
From DeepMind and TransferWise to Deliveroo and Improbable, London is home to a host of innovative companies that are transforming the global tech landscape. But despite these success stories and the obvious economic strength of the sector, there are currently only 300,000 digital tech jobs in London, according to the latest Tech Nation Report.
This is nowhere near good enough, especially for an economy that will be underpinned by digital in the near future.
Steps must now be taken to increase that number year-on-year, until we reach the magic figure of one million – it’s an ambitious goal, but one that is necessary and definitely worth pursuing, as it will bring significant benefits and future-proof our economy.
Immigration circumstances will play a key role here. Britain’s ability to attract and bring in top talent from across the world should be a set objective – it’s the fuel that helps to ignite the fire of the startup economy.
Product managers, software developers, engineers and data analysts, to name but a few, are valuable assets to our economy, and their significance will only increase over time.
Tech’s lucrative position in the economy means that the government must address this through a new immigration policy. The current visa system is restrictive to the growth of the tech sector and is simply not adequate. Britain must convey a message of an open nation where talent and ability create your fortunes, rather than the odds of falling into a visa bracket.
Designing a framework for EU immigration post-Brexit, as well as nurturing the thousands of EU nationals who already work on the British tech scene, is also crucial.
Welcoming foreign talent goes hand in hand with developing people with the right skills within our own borders.
As mayor Sadiq Khan will outline at the launch event of London Tech Week today, we need to empower the next generation of talent to enable success for the tech sector, and tomorrow’s launch of the London First Skills Commission report will further reinforce this point.
While the digital economy is steadily growing, the prevalence of British STEM skills is not keeping pace. Initiatives like the Digital Skills Partnership that bring together the public and private sectors are a step in the right direction, and much more of the same is needed if we are to create a generation equipped for the digital age.
We need to go back to basics and ensure that our schools are preparing the workforce of tomorrow with the skills they will need, for jobs that may not even exist today.
The private sector must also work harder to bring more women, black and minority ethnic talent into tech, too, as targeting diverse talent will help to build a more robust workforce reflective of our society.
Shaping a talented and diverse workforce requires time and patience, but ultimately it will be our ability to develop the skills of Brits from across the country and from all backgrounds, along with inviting talent from abroad, that will define London’s future.
There’s an old adage that goes: they were laughed at until proven right. One million tech jobs seems an overly ambitious goal for London at first glance, but it is that very ambition that has fuelled London’s digital growth and there is no reason to stop believing now.