London tech growth hampered by talent shortage

The single biggest impediment to London’s tech future is a shortage of talent, according to a Tech London Advocates, the independent private sector group.

A survey of the group’s members highlighted that Advocates believe shortage of talent and immigration legislation are threatening London technology’s continued growth.

Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates, comments, “A lack of skills and challenging immigration legislation is inhibiting growth in the capital and threatening London’s position as a global technology hub. Encouraging young people to study STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects and initiatives to encourage digital skills are important steps in the right direction but we are calling on the government to review education and immigration legislation to fuel the long term growth of London’s most vibrant industry.”

A selection of fast growing businesses identified below by Tech London Advocates as the most promising for 2014 were asked about the challenges they faced around immigration and talent. Nearly all reported difficulties around recruitment despite having, on average, seven open vacancies.

Leslie Sarma, associate at Penningtons Manches LLP and Tech London Advocates immigration working group lead, comments, “We believe there is still work to be done in assisting rapid growth startups looking to staff up quickly. The expansion of Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) to the tech sector is an excellent step, and we look forward to continued work with the Home Office to facilitate growth across the digital technology community throughout the UK.”

The study will be released ahead of the first anniversary summit of Tech London Advocates, London: Capital Gains, where speakers such as Kit Malthouse, deputy London mayor for business and enterprise, Gerard Grech, CEO of Tech City UK and Sherry Coutu, angel investor will discuss key issues facing London’s technology sector.

Business owners from the tech pioneers identified by the Tech London Advocates study, expand on how the problems of talent and immigration are affecting them:

Sarah Wood, founder of Unruly, comments, “I’m a strong believer that the best teams are diverse teams. A diverse team, with people of different ages, backgrounds and areas of expertise, is best placed to meet the challenges and opportunities of the new economy, the digital economy that’s so crucial to the growth of UK plc.  Initiatives like the introduction of a new visa route for tech talent, The Exceptional Talent Visa, are welcomed, and in addition to nurturing homegrown talent, the Government needs to do more to reduce the cost, complexity and time taken to push through visa applications.”

Ruth Barnett, head of communications at SwiftKey, comments, “We need skilled staff who are native speakers of key languages, such as Chinese and Japanese. This can be challenging as there is a lengthy visa process that doesn’t always make that potential employee – who are often being courted by tech companies in other countries too – feel especially welcome. The technology sector is all about pace of execution – when competing in the global mobile sector you have to be fast. Anything that slows us down and absorbs the time of senior staff runs the risk of making us less competitive.”

Dan Crow, CTO of Songkick, comments, “We’ve found it challenging to get highly skilled people to join us from outside the EU. There is a deep pool of highly experienced people in Silicon Valley. We’ve managed to tempt a few of them to London, but we’ve also lost some very promising potential employees because it is so hard for Americans to get work visas for the UK.”

Ed Bussey, founder of Quill, comments, “60% of our technology team and 30% of the company’s London based employees are from outside the UK.  This reflects the international mix of the applicants and our approach to hire the best possible talent wherever it comes from.”

Michal Zlabek, marketing manager at Growth Intelligence, comments ‘In our experience, there is a shortage of senior developers and it’s difficult to get relevant CV’s in, particularly from recruiters.’