The London Tech Week 2018 launch event kicked off a string of 300 separate events over the next week designed to promote London as a tech hub and attract more young people from diverse backgrounds into an industry craving new blood.
An audience dominated by young people at the Francis Crick Institute in London heard from tech leaders in business and academia as well as London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan, who also used the opportunity to announce an ambitious smart city plan for London and talk up the city’s position in the artificial intelligence (AI) sector.
“There is always a great buzz about the London Tech festival,” he said. “It not only showcases the latest tech innovation but also serves as the perfect illustration that despite Brexit our city remains welcoming, outward looking and open. Open to business, open to investment and open to talent.”
Engaging with the next generation of potential IT professions was the repeated call from speakers throughout the launch event.
With a future IT skills shortage predicted as a result of Brexit, as well as a shortage of students studying technology, boosting home grown talent is critical if London and the wider UK is to compete on the world stage.
Read more about London Tech week
- London Tech week 2017: Speaking in east London at the launch of this year’s London Tech Week, mayor Sadiq Khan said the city will remain open to talent from around the world despite the threats posed by Brexit to the city’s tech sector.
- London Tech Week 2016: Technology company “collective”, the Tech Talent Charter launches to tackle lack of diversity in the tech sector.
Speaking to Computer Weekly, Martin Loomes, dean of the school of science and technology at Middlesex University, said the London Tech week event is a good opportunity for the university to show off what it does. It was demonstrated a robotic arm that can be controlled by simple programming, which is aimed at inspiring primary school children.
This is much needed considering the shortage of young people studying Stem subjects. “There is not enough. Events like this can break down barriers.”
He said there is a real problem due to the lack of women getting into tech. “We still have very few women coming into computing and engineering, and if we can crack that nut, I think we will solve some of the skills shortage.”
Efforts are being made at secondary school level to increase the take up of computing subjects. Ed Chambers, head of engineering at London secondary school the UCL Academy, said: “We were invited here as we are a Stem specialist school, so this is right up our street.” At the UCL academy, children do engineering for three hours a week.”
He said the students are interested in technologies including computer-aided design (CAD) and robotics, but added that work needs to be done to better promote careers in technology.
Retaining girls’ interest in tech
Getting more girls into tech at an early age and retaining their interest is key, according to Maria Walsh, engineering technician at the UCL Academy.
The UK will face huge challenges over the next few years as its Brexit destination is defined. In the meantime and possibly beyond, the IT sector could find itself short of the skills it needs. Another academic that wished to remain anonymous said his organisation is already losing experienced staff as a result of Brexit.
“People are not leaving in their droves, but those that are getting offers in EU countries are taking them,” they said. “London is no longer the attractive place it was.”
Khan also used the launch event to make an announcement around a London smart city project, as well as details of London’s strong position in the global AI industry.
The smart city initiative will challenge London’s tech talent to help solve problems including poor air quality, urban design and digital connectivity. He also announced a report on London’s AI ecosystem from CognitionX, which found the city is home to 758 artificial intelligence companies – more than twice as many as its closest rivals Paris and Berlin combined.