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Science

Closing the UK's tech skills gap

The tech sector in the UK is booming, but tech startups are hungry beasts that need constant feeding. A worsening technology skills gap means many tech companies just can’t find the talent to feed their own growth.

Ruzbeh Bacha is ​one of London's latest tech success stories. But he's struggling to find skilled workers here to grow his young business.

The ambitious 35-year old used to work for Skype. But he wanted to be his own boss, so he's now working "crazy hours" to grow his own startup.

Bacha learned how to code, pulled together a tech team and ​created CityFALCON, an online platform for traders and investors. It launched in November 2014 and has already been identified as one of the UK's fastest growing, most exciting companies to watch.

Yet finding the right talent to fuel his company's growth is "extremely difficult in the UK," says Bacha.

UK Tech Skills

Ruzbeh Bacha is looking abroad for talent

"My development team sits in the Ukraine," he adds ruefully, where he can get "a resource that has three, four, five years development experience for a significantly lower cost.”

To build a platform like CityFALCON, he says, would have been "almost impossible in the UK."

Help wanted: must have tech skills

Britain's tech industry is estimated to contribute around £100 billion to the economy, according to Tech City UK, a government organization set up to encourage the industry's growth.​

"Out of the G7 countries, we have the largest proportion of our GDP attributed to digital," says Adiba Osmani, head of Tech City UK's Digital Business Academy Programme. "Digital is the lifeblood of our success story”.

And the industry is growing fast, she says, with almost 1.5 million people, that's about 7.5 percent of the workforce, employed by tech firms in the UK​. Yet the lack of affordable tech ​workers is proving a major challenge for many employers. ​

Fintech soars…for now

Claire Cockerton is the founding director and CEO of Innovate Finance, the voice of the UK's financial technology industry, better known here as fintech. Fintech grew to more than £300 million in the UK in 2014. But Cockerton believes the marketplace isn't keeping up with the demands for technical talent.

UK Tech Skills

Claire Cockerton says speed is of essence

"We really do need to develop (talent) from the bottom up but also ensure that we can get very quick access to technical talent," says Cockerton.

"So we've been looking at reforming the visa processes for these younger companies and for these highly skilled individuals."

TransferWise is an example of a fintech startup that has found a way of attracting employees with the right kind of technical talent.

This online money transfer platform was launched by two Estonians in 2011. With a bright, open plan office close to Silicon Roundabout, the centre of London's tech scene, its employees are young, casually dressed, male and female, and ethnically diverse.

Co-founder Kristo Käärmann says the British government is doing a lot to develop a workforce with the right tech skills that are accessible to startups. But he wishes governments could move faster.

UK Tech Skills

Kristo Käärmann says the politicians need to act

"I think the ideas are there, there are many super smart people trying to do the right things, but just let's stop talking and start acting."

Fellow fintech entrepreneur Ruzbeh Bacha agrees. He wants the government to act now to improve tech skills at home, ease immigration policy to make affordable talent from overseas more accessible, and boost the number of women in tech.

"I have been trying desperately to hire more women in my team…It helps in terms of your product, in terms of your design. If you have a room full of men trying to decide what the product looks like, you're probably going to get only men as customers, and that's not what you want today."

The challenges posed by the UK's tech skills gap are a daily reality for Bacha, and he worries that London may be giving away advantages to cities like Singapore and Hong Kong if it doesn't act to increase the tech talent available to startups like his.

​But like any bullishly ambitious entrepreneur in one of the world's tech centers, he's not about to let it hold him back.

"In five to ten years, we'll have a massive building in Canary Wharf, that's the aspiration."

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