The opportunities and challenges Covid-19 has presented UK tech
22nd May 2020
By Russ Shaw, Tech London Advocates
This week we heard the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, caution more permanent scarring to the UK economy, a clear departure from the ‘V-shaped recovery’, and an acknowledgement that despite enormous fiscal stimulus there is lots more to be done. A key component of the government’s intervention in the tech sector is the Future Fund, that also went live this week, with media reports declaring on its first day, the Chancellor received applications totalling in excess of £450m. Nearly twice the original allocation.
In the short-term, these measures will be very welcomed by startups that are in need of a financial lifeline and in combination with additional InnovateUK funding, will serve to rescue many firms that would otherwise fail. It has become apparent that the technology sector remains a central component of this government’s economic strategy – and that it is strongly committed to helping to see it through this period of commercial turbulence.
But what of the long-term? And is there an opportunity to rebuild in a way where we do things better?
This crisis has shone a light on several tech verticals and highlighted them as being fundamental in the future of industry; in commerce, in healthcare, in finance and in communications. The trends that many of us recognised in the transition to an increasingly digital centric economy, matched by consumer behaviours – the Covid-19 crisis has accelerated these at an unparalleled pace. From which there will be no turning back.
This tectonic shift in both the economy and society towards tech and innovation is here to stay – which means the sector’s entrepreneurs and leaders will play a vital role in supporting the recovery of the broader business population and in making the transition. The ‘new normal’ will be to a large degree, a more digital normal.
My advice to tech companies then is be prepared for this. Find the means to adapt your offering and communicate it to a range of businesses and consumers that you may have not have needed to address prior to Covid-19. There will be opportunities as we transition through this to take on new audiences, and markets with innovative products and solutions that find new demand from households and industries that have been thrust into a more digitalised future.
In fuelling the long-term recovery and then resurgence in the tech sector – we must consider other parts of the growth equation because right now all eyes are on the balance sheets and funding, but it might not be the sole focus for long. Next will come talent and the question of how we upskill a nation to meet our digital demands.
The UK is an unrivalled position on the international stage to be defined as a modern economy with a tech hub that generates world-leading advancements. But we will require the pipeline of talent to achieve that. Having founded the UK’s largest private-sector network in tech, over the years I have heard repeatedly from tech companies on their biggest barrier to growth – a shortage of skills.
Britain will need to deploy considerable resource, attention, creativity and ambition behind initiatives within both the private and public sectors that upskill the workers that will be moving industry as a direct result of Covid-19 or are entering a very different world of work. The demand for skilled digital talent will most certainly be there, now it is about ensuring that we have the supply.
And the good news is that the UK has so much untapped potential. At Tech London Advocates, we have always campaigned for a more inclusive and diverse sector – one that is not only fairer, but as the data shows, more innovative and geared towards growth. This could be an opportunity to encourage many firms to make a clean break from the past, and as we begin to see the fresh shoots that emerge as we work through Covid-19 – we don’t return to the same talent pool. But at every level, we bring diverse talent into the sector for the betterment of the industry and in fore filling its potential for the wider economy.