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Immigration alone can’t sustain London’s tech boom

Tech City News’ recent awards for international diversity in tech was an important reminder of the importance of the global village in the success of Shoreditch.

It highlighted a tension in Government policy between immigration and business demands. It also throws up some serious points about the skills we need in order for our vibrant tech business sector to thrive.

The figures on immigration for those working in tech businesses are hard to pin down, especially as so many in the industry do not require tech qualifications or have no recognised job description.

Born abroad

A rough proxy is to look at skills migration into IT jobs.

The Office for National Statistics Labour Force Survey estimate shows that in the first quarter of 2014, 22 per cent of people working in IT and software development were born abroad.

If you look at this figure for any occupation it’s only 15 per cent – but showing a marked gap in home grown IT specialists. Some of those born abroad will be British Citizens but if you take the same figures for foreign nationals they are 16 per cent and 12 per cent respectivley.

So whichever way we look at it foreign born or non-British people are better represented in the sector than in others.

Demand for training

Whenever I talk to tech businesses about their business needs there is another new emerging role that we have not got home trained people to fill. We need to be advocates for the global nature and needs of the sector.

As the Government’s own Migration Advisory Committee recently highlighted, the net contribution of EU migrants alone to the UK is £22bn. It also underlined that these roles have not damaged job prospects for British workers.

But it also raised the knotty issue of whether our school children are being provided with the right skill sets. And I also challenge the tech sector to commit to British born young people who should be being trained to meet employers’ future needs.

Tech education

In the last week Hackney’s University Technical College announced it is winding down. A school which required a transfer of pupils at age 14 faced a big challenge, especially when local secondary schools are so good.

But we are now seeing plans emerge for a properly integrated training for students from 14 to 25 to include tech skills, qualifications designed by businesses and apprentices.

I want to see the UTC replaced by an education hub which also acts as an information portal to those who want to offer jobs or placements and to those who want to train.

This also needs to be a quality filter. If we are to make sure that London’s young people have at least the same opportunity to gain employment as their EU counterparts we need to be clear, focused and provide the best training we can.

The job of employers

Employers need to be embraced and willing to put effort into recruiting and training the pool of talent on their own doorstep.

Recent reports from Oxford University’s Migration Observatory highlight the need for foreigners with skills. As routes for skilled labour outside the EU closed (the highly skilled visa route was abolished and the two year post study work visa was closed off) the gaps have been filled by EU migrants.

Shoreditch and Hackney will always be international. But we need to make sure that the same opporunities are open to the resident community. Immigration is only part of the solution.