In this new remote world we’re living in, only technology can fuel our recovery.
The coronavirus pandemic brought the city to a standstill. Schools closed, offices shut and workers were furloughed, but now, as the world returns to some semblance of normality, all eyes are on the tech sector. We caught up with Deb Hetherington, Head of Innovation at Bruntwood SciTech and Founder of Women in Leeds Digital, to find out why the tech industry will be integral to the city’s economic recovery.
The Leeds tech industry is stronger than ever
“It’s no secret that Leeds has the fastest growing digital economy outside London or that it’s the fastest-growing professional services and commercial city in the UK,” Deb told us. “We’ve got a real opportunity here to become a global leader in the digital and technology sector.”
According to G.P Bullhound, 27 of the fastest-growing tech companies in the UK are based in the Leeds City Region. That includes the likes of Infinity Works, Big Change, Crisp Thinking and rradar. The digital sector now contributes £6.5 billion to the local economy. It accounts for 102,000 jobs and attracted £108.8 million of investment last year alone.
“The council’s approach to the digital sector is absolutely integral to its growth,” Deb explained. “They put a lot of support into the digital sector – they fully back Leeds Digital Festival, they back Women in Leeds Digital, anything that comes up with a digital and tech agenda, they back it, not just putting money into it, but also fully supporting it.”
As a result, more companies are looking to Leeds from London. They see how affordable it is, they see how well-connected we are and they see how fast our talent pool is growing, fed by 20,000 STEM graduates every year. But more than that, they see our collaborative community, which stems from nationally acclaimed initiatives like Leeds Digital Festival, FinTech North and Women in Leeds Digital.
It’s driving the city’s recovery
The tech sector is resilient. According to new figures compiled by Tech Nation and Dealroom, UK tech companies raised $5.3 billion between January and May 2020, compared to just $4.1 billion across the rest of Europe – and many tech companies have actually seen an uplift in demand as consumers and businesses begin to adapt to social distancing measures.
“We’re living in a more remote world, so connectivity is more important than it’s ever been, and technology powers that connectivity. Whether it’s cloud infrastructure, Zoom or Microsoft Teams, technology is helping companies to work effectively,” Deb told us. “Technology is absolutely key. It allows us to stay connected, for our business, for our wellbeing, for our social lives – it’s integral to our recovery.”
The pandemic has accelerated digital adoption in sectors that historically have moved very slowly. EMIS Health made their video consultation software free to 4,000 GP surgeries across England, Synap launched a new short-term product to help universities adapt to remote working and NHS Digital rolled out Microsoft Teams to 1.3 million NHSmail users in just 5 days (they’ve since sent over 15 million messages).
Technology has already helped us to adapt and now it’s helping us to recover. Take the hospitality industry for example. These days, you’re more likely to order on an app than at the bar, reducing face-to-face contact and preventing the spread of the virus. It’s helping the industry get back on its feet and giving customers the confidence to go out – so the tech industry isn’t just thriving, it’s powering our economic recovery of other sectors too.
The skills gap could counter unemployment
COVID-19 has thrown the UK into a recession. Despite the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, employment dropped by 220,000 between April and June 2020. More job losses are expected as the government rolls back its support and the Bank of England predicts the jobless rate will hit 7.5% by the end of this year. But when one door closes, another one opens.
“I think people who find themselves on furlough, people who find themselves unemployed or students who find themselves graduating into a world where the jobs market isn’t as rich as it was, will have an opportunity to move into the ever-growing technology sector, where we need developers, we need testers and we need digital marketing specialists,” Deb told us.
For the last decade, the tech industry has contended with a growing skills gap. Put simply, there were more jobs than candidates, but what was once a negative is now a positive because it means we can retrain the nation and get people back to work. Of course, it’s not that easy, you can’t change careers overnight, but what people don’t realise is that you can learn to code in a matter of months. You can even be self-taught, no degree necessary.