Why action is needed on the skills gap in tech to stop Britain falling behind

Action on the skills gap in technology is needed now to ensure Britain remains competitive, a leading tech entrepreneur told the Great Northern Conference.

David Richards, CEO of WANDisco, told the audience: “You wouldn’t ask if a home should have a sewage system and water?”

David Richards, CEO of WANDisco, set up the Laptops For Kids scheme to tackle the lack of access to devices for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“People don’t choose to not have access to connectivity and devices,” Mr Richards said. “But you can’t talk about the digital divide without talking about the skills gap.”

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He added: “We have a problem in the UK. We have about half a million vacancies in software because we're going through a massive digital transformation. We need a shed load of engineers and guess what? We don’t have them.”

The boss of the Sheffield-based firm said universities won’t provide “oven-ready graduates” that the sector can hire and that tech isn’t geared up to train talent.

“What we need is graduates that can immediately step in and do a job,” Mr Richards said.

The entrepreneur has launched a software academy called Ey Up Skills in the city.

Ashley Lumsden, director of UK Government and public affairs at Huawei Technologies told the audience it was important to ensure that the pandemic “doesn’t widen the digital divide”.

“The pandemic has taught us all the value of technology,” he said. “Internet traffic doubled overnight.”

Chi Onwurah, shadow minister for digital, science and technology, told the conference that the country needs investment in digital infrastructure.

Mr Richards said that every single person should have access to the internet. He believes that a service can be created without hurting service providers that is free of gambling, video streaming and gaming to enable people to access the internet for necessary means.

“You wouldn’t ask if a home should have a sewage system and water?” he said. “Every single household in the UK has to have free access to the internet.”

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James Mitchinson