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The capital needs more diverse tech talent, says London Assembly report

The London Assembly Economy Committee urges mayor of London Boris Johnson to further champion women in IT, re-design apprenticeships to improve skills and diversity, and lobby for superfast broadband in the capital

The London Assembly Economy Committee has called on mayor of London Boris Johnson to re-design apprenticeships to be “fit for purpose” for the digital sector.

The report, entitled A mayoral manifesto for the digital economy, said the tech sector in London is facing a range of challenges, including a digital skills shortage and a lack of diversity.

According to Fiona Twycross, chair of the London Assembly Economy Committee, tech companies are “crying out for people with the right digital skills”.

“London has a world-leading tech sector, but we need to ensure that this thriving sector is as diverse as possible with opportunities for women, and local young people benefitting from what is on their doorstep,” she said.

The report revealed that 46% of leading tech figures believe the main challenge the tech industry faces is a shortage of skilled workers, but despite the need for them, young Londoners – especially women – are struggling to take advantage of jobs.

“We must do all we can to get young people trained, so they don’t miss out on the opportunities out there,” the report said.

In November 2015, the mayor launched a £5m Digital Talent Programme to ensure young people in the capital are learning digital skills.

The report called on Johnson to target the programme so that a range of providers offering courses other than conventional apprenticeships would be eligible for funding.  

It also said that the mayor and the London Enterprise Panel “should work together with digital skills providers and further education establishments to re-design an apprenticeship which is fit for the purposes of the digital sector”.

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The London Assembly said the apprenticeship should be industry-led, agile and centrally co-ordinated “to ensure small and medium-sized enterprises [SMEs] are able to participate”.

It also said the apprenticeship should be informed by better and localised data collection on the needs of the sector.

The creation of Tech City UK has led to a huge increase in technology investment in the capital, with many SMEs setting up shop in and around London’s silicon roundabout.

However, youth unemployment in the same area is high and “it seems those young people are not being given the skills to benefit from the opportunities in the tech sector”, said the report. Instead, the sector is importing talent from abroad.

The report also pointed out that the majority of UK startups are founded by children of middle-class families and that Tech City is “heavily biased towards white, male employees”.

Lack of connectivity

Despite being a tech-focused capital, superfast coverage for SMEs “lags behind average coverage in urban areas”, said the report.

“Some companies have to resort to sending their work via courier to clients, due to frustratingly slow upload speeds,” said Twycross.

“Moves have been made to address this, but urgent action is needed to improve connectivity and broadband access for SMEs.”

The report urges Johnson to highlight the need for “wider availability of high-speed broadband infrastructure and lobby the government to introduce superfast broadband as a condition of planning consent for new developments”.

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