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Lack of risk taking could threaten British tech, says Level39’s head

Failing to take risks in the current climate of rapid change could act as a barrier for growth for British tech and businesses, according to head of Level39

Not taking risks in the current period of fast-paced change could threaten British business, warned Ben Brabyn, head of financial technology (fintech) ecosystem Level39.

Challenges such as the UK’s vote to leave the European Union (EU), the growth of Asian markets, the political landscape in the US and digital disruption mean innovation is more important than ever, Brabyn said at Level39’s fourth anniversary celebration.

“This is not a time for spectators. There is no greater threat to British tech or to British business than the failure to take risks,” he said.

The UK technology industry has stated a focus on UK tech skills is essential in the face of Brexit, especially as the UK is already suffering from an IT skills gap.

A lack of talented workers and too little funding for research and development were also cited as risks to the potential growth of London’s fintech sector.

Around 20% of Level39’s members said a shortage of talent could be a threat to future growth of London’s finance and professional services sectors, and a shortage of talent was pegged as the biggest challenge for London startups by 23% of Level39 members.

London’s deputy mayor for business, Jajesg Agrawal, said London is currently a “magnet” for worldwide talent, but urged that businesses must stay open to fluid movement of talent from across the globe.

“We’ve got a great talent pool, we continue to attract talent like a magnet from around the world. I’ve got no doubt we will continue to be the best place in the business world by continuing to be open,” he said.

But despite the government attempting to supply the tech talent pipeline with the introduction of the computing curriculum, there is a concern among industry experts that the UK relies too much on external talent and should do more to increase its own pipeline.

Jacqueline de Rojas, president of technology association TechUK, said the UK is suffering a “triple hit” on skills due to EU citizens choosing to leave the UK after the Brexit vote, not enough being done to ensure external candidates are drawn in and allowed to stay, and not investing in home-grown talent.

“We’re not growing out talent domestically fast enough,” she added.

According to De Rojas, to improve this situation the technology community should rally together to “create a voice” that details what the industry will need to continue to grow at the same pace, creating a “high wage, high digital skills economy” as opposed to an ecosystem with low wages and few skilled workers.  

“Remember that digital is a very special sector because digital doesn’t know any boundaries and that, in itself, means we’re quite viral,” she said.

Growing the UK’s tech and fintech ecosystems

Out of Level39’s members, 90% believe London’s ecosystem is capable of producing a “critical mass” of startups capable of global success, but many experts believe there is often too much of a focus on London’s tech scene, leaving the rest of the UK ignored.

Chi Onwurah, labour member of Parliament (MP) for Newcastle Central and shadow minister for Industrial Strategy, said how the government reacts to the current political climate is “critical” to how UK business ecosystems develop in the future both in and out of London. This includes a focus on talent nationally, she added.

“London is the number one place for skilled jobs in the world. That’s fantastic, but as a government it needs to make sure those skills are available across the UK,” she said.

The technology industry in the UK suffers from a lack of diversity, and Onwurah said diversity of skills – as well as other types of diversity such as ethnicity, gender and socio-economic background – is important for innovation.

“If they’re not from a different background with different ideas, the level of innovation provided is reduced,” she said, before stating technology and fintech are the future, and “that future needs to include everyone”.

There are a number of initiatives in the industry to try and shift this dial to increase diversity, but the industry has seen little change over the past 10 years.

A focus on cyber security

As a result of a number of high-profile cyber attacks in the past five years, many firms are increasingly looking for cyber-security specialists.

Financial firms need to make urgent investment in cyber security, according to Level39 members, with 13% believing cyber security will be the most invested-in tech vertical in London over the next five years.

The government has tried to increase the UK’s cyber-security ecosystem by partnering with industry to develop skills and products.

Jessica Barker, co-founder of Redacted Firm and head of Cyber.uk, encouraged firms to “move fast” and “be agile” and ensure their approach to cyber security is innovative. When it comes to cyber, risk taking is important,” she added.

An advocate for women in cyber security, as well as for diversity in the technology industry, Baker urged firms to invest in diverse teams. “We need this diversity, not just for talent, but for a different representation of views,” she said.

Read more about technology skills

  • Nottingham Trent University’s infrastructure services manager explains how she has made sure her technology team have the essential soft skills they need to support users.
  • Technology giant Microsoft announces a programme designed to boost digital skills and tech job prospects across the UK.

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