Will Brexit cause UK tech ambitions to decline?

Brexit flags

Throughout the 2010s, the UK has faced a thick fog of uncertainty. The decade has seen four general elections take place, as well as the momentous 2016 EU Referendum; such events have caused even the most experienced business leaders to feel less than confident.

However, the results of the December 2019 general election suggest that stability could be on the horizon. Regardless of one’s political leanings, many will view the Conservative Party’s overwhelming majority as a welcome break in Westminster’s political deadlock. Indeed, we are already seeing breaks in the deadlock, with the Brexit Bill finally being passed through the House of Commons on 9th January 2020. Whilst we now wait for the bill to be passed by the House of Lords, the fact it swiftly made its way through the Commons has already increased the likelihood of the UK leaving the EU by January 31st 2020. Such activities have enabled businesses to plan future activities with greater confidence. However, despite greater certainty, one industry in particular remains concerned about the impact of Brexit on its future growth; the tech industry. So, it is vital that we  get to the bottom of its concerns.

What concerns tech start-ups?

The overwhelming concern of the UK tech sector appears to be access (or potentially lack thereof) to talent. Given that vital tech roles such as graphic designers are already in short supply, it’s no wonder that the industry is feeling anxious. Recent research by Studio Graphene revealed that almost three quarters (73 percent) of tech start-ups in the UK are concerned that Brexit will hinder its ability to hire staff with the correct skillset over the next twelve months.

Concerns over the ability to attract the right employees is having a knock-on effect on many start-ups’ growth ambitions. Indeed, 69 percent of those surveyed by Studio Graphene worry that Brexit will make it incredibly difficult for them to hire enough staff to help their business grow. It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that the same number (69 percent) have confirmed support for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s points-based immigration system, if it would provide skilled tech workers with better access to the UK job market.

So, the question now is whether these worries have permanently dampened the long-term ambitions of the tech industry.

Room for positivity

Interestingly, despite concerns surrounding the future of the UK tech workforce, the industry as a whole has remained positive about its outlook. In Studio Graphene’s aforementioned research, it was revealed that 75 percent of tech start-ups are optimistic about their prospects over the coming twelve months.

Whilst such positivity might come as a surprise, it isn’t unwarranted. After all, in the first seven months of 2019 -- a time when perhaps uncertainty was at its peak -- the UK’s tech industry attracted an average of $1 billion a month in investment.

So, despite the concerns of tech start-ups, there remain clear opportunities for growth within the UK tech sector. What is clear is that the government must act now, to ensure that the concerns don’t snowball and that the ambitions of the tech sector don’t face being permanently knocked.

What are the next steps?

First and foremost, the government must commit to working closely with the tech sector, in order to understand the industry’s anxieties. Through close collaboration, the government will be able to offer the appropriate reassurance and take decisive action to instill confidence in tech growth ambitions.

There are numerous ways the government can ease the nerves of UK tech startups. Firstly, they can commit to helping tech workers from outside of the UK access the country’s tech sector. This will undoubtedly be a weight off the minds of many entrepreneurs as, even if they have no immediate plans to recruit new employees, the knowledge that they will be able to in the future will ensure they can still plan to grow their team, and consequently their business.

However, the government should also turn its attention to home-grown talent and invest in future generations of tech experts. Investing in tech education will be vital to the long-term growth of the UK’s tech sector. It will ensure that young people are leaving school, college or university with the right skill sets to enter the tech industry and drive its development.

The tech industry is clearly a promising one, however, without adequate support, its long-term prospects could suffer. Whilst it might take time to implement all the changes the industry wants to see, the government’s commitment to reassure the sector will enable businesses to plan for the future with confidence.

Photo credit: esfera / Shutterstock

Ritam Gandhi worked as a consultant for a decade for the likes of Accenture and Bank of America Merrill Lynch before, in 2014, going on to found Studio Graphene -- a firm that specializes in developing amazing blank canvas tech products. Working with many startups alongside innovation teams in more established companies, the London-based agency plans, designs and builds astounding tech products for its clients. What’s more, Ritam and the team also use their experience and expertise to help leaders grow their business from ideation, to launch and beyond.

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