Odgers Berndtson launched a manifesto to expand technology skills in the UK – urging the government to relax immigration controls, expand university funding and boost public/private partnerships to achieve its ambitions on innovation post Brexit.

“It’s vital for the UK to adopt a more holistic and far-reaching approach to developing the specialist capabilities needed to compete in the fast-changing market for global tech,” Mike Drew, head of the global Technology practice at Odgers Berndtson, said.

“It’s not just a case of keeping the borders open – important though that is – but taking a more societal view of what technology can do and investing on a much greater scale through regional centres of excellence and in partnership with industry.” 

The firm’s “Manifesto for Excellence in Emerging Technology” calls for:

1/ SWITCH OF EMPHASIS TO BOOST DEPTH IN EMERGING TECH

Government support to encourage more students to specialise in key areas like artificial intelligence and machine learning, perhaps by providing additional funding for university research in these areas. At present, the firm argues, university research is too weighted towards generalists, often studying computer science rather than emerging technologies.

2/ CENTRES OF EXCELLENCE IN AI ACROSS THE UK

Applications for artificial intelligence in the commercial world are almost infinite, across all industries and sectors, but specialists in these fields are relatively scarce. Odgers Berndtson calls for greater focus on key areas of innovation, ideally via regional Centres of Excellence linked to different universities leading specialist areas of research. This would have the additional benefit of helping to spread investment and research development across the UK.

3/ OPEN BORDERS TO SPECIALIST TECH TALENT

Major employers investing in the UK are looking to hire experienced talent in emerging tech, like AI, but while numbers are growing they remain scarce in comparison to high demand and many are non-UK citizens. Odgers Berndtson argues the government needs to do more to allow highly skilled migrants in new specialist areas the right to remain and build long-term careers in the UK.

4/ PUBLIC/PRIVATE COLLABORATION

Companies need to recognise they can’t simply hire on demand the talent they require for their strategic programmes because increasingly they will find there are not enough to address growing demand. Mr. Drew argues that limiting immigration will exacerbate this so more collaboration is needed between government, universities and the private sector to develop new specialists and make the UK a global hub.

5/ ANTICIPATE SOCIETAL NEEDS

Another area where the UK could take a lead is in anticipating the growing need for specialists to focus on ethical and societal impacts of emerging technologies like AI, robotics and machine learning. Without frameworks to predict the human impacts, the true benefits may not be reached due to fear over their potential negative or nefarious use. This could be achieved by encouraging those who have studied humanities subjects, philosophy or social sciences to specialise in applications of AI.

Mr. Drew said the points in the manifesto are based on the firm’s experience of the needs of clients (global technology firms, start-ups and tertiary institutions), all increasingly seeking specialists across emerging technologies. Recognising that Odgers Berndtson is unable to action this on its own, Mr. Drew said it would be open to working in partnership where practical to help achieve these goals.

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