Category Archives: David Cameron

Job Centre: With all eyes on Tech City, where are the mobile job opportunities and do we have the skills to fill them?

According to the Connected Digital Economy Catapult, established by the Government’s Technology Strategy Board, the IT, software and digital content sectors are worth £100bn to the UK economy. This is larger per head than any other country in the world and could represent 10 per cent of UK GDP by 2015. 

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in January, EU commissioner for technology, Neelie Kroes, said that Europe would have 1m new tech jobs by 2016 and 2m by 2020, with up to a fifth of these in the UK. Worryingly though, IBM’s 2012 Tech Trends report found that just 1 in 10 UK organisations believes it has the skills to use advanced technologies, including mobile computing, cloud computing, and social business. Meanwhile, 73 per cent of educators and students said there is a major or moderate gap in their institution’s ability to meet demand for these skills.  

PM David Cameron has announced a £50m regeneration of East London’s Old Street tech hub, Silicon Roundabout, which is due for completion in 2016. While this will certainly create an impressive landmark to showcase digital leadership, little commitment has been made to creating a suitably skilled British workforce. And in any event, it may already be too late.  

With some of the biggest media companies in the world – the likes of Skype, Amazon, Google, Facebook, and BSkyB – all expanding their mobile operations in London, and each requiring large engineering teams of hundreds of people, the competition is already fierce for mobile talent. Is the UK up to the job? 

“Our candidates think mobile is a really interesting opportunity, particularly around M2M and the chance to use mobile technology to make people’s lives better, whether that’s through medical and health or utility,” said Mark Long, director of future media recruitment company ABRS. “They are in a really good position – everyone from software engineers, UX designers, product managers – across the mobile platform, there are more jobs than candidates. If you’ve got the skills, there are loads of opportunities – if you’re a company trying to build this stuff, there is lots of competition.” 

Like the FT, Walmart and Deloitte, Thomson Reuters bought a London-based mobile dev firm, Apsmart, to shore up its mobile capacity. Bob Schukai, head of mobile at Thomson Reuters, says: “It’s not uncommon to just buy a mobile development company to take them completely off the market. You might never do anything with the product, you might just be doing it as a talent acquisition.  “It used to be about offshore versus inshore – that discussion has changed completely. It’s now about outsource versus insource. You can see a decline in numbers in the PC space and with that comes an insatiable demand for mobile talent. That’s a capability that companies need to create themselves and be able to instil across their organisation.”

 So, does the talent have to be bought or can you help grow it? Raj Day, group CSO for Telefónica in Latin America, was out running while considering his difficulty in finding innovative products, services and different ways of working. There was only one shop for digital innovation – Silicon Valley – and it was not only expensive to hire from but was also eating up some of his own digital talent. He passed an empty shop and thought ‘what would happen if we filled that full of startups?’ 

Three years and 13 countries later, the startup initiative Wayra is now established across Latin America, the US and the EU. Ann Parker heads up EU operations for the accelerator programme, and she says there is an abundance of talent. “The perception I had was that we would struggle to find that kind of talent and people willing to go and work in a startup in London,” she says. “We have found quite the reverse. We get a lot of people who have finished their degree but have decided that the corporate ladder isn’t for them. We also get lots of people in their mid-30s. People who’ve got life experience, who’ve made a few mistakes. That really helps.” 

While Telefónica says it does not intend to take any of the teams that it gives funding to into the business itself, startups like cloud service provider Cloud66 have become preferred partners and in return gain access to more than 300m customers. “If we want digital startups to contribute to the economy, everyone needs to be putting their hands in their pocket,” says Parker. “There’s room for us all.” 

Eric Van der Kleij, fintech entrepreneur and head of Level39, Tech City’s newest accelerator, believes that the financial crisis has given entrepreneurs and big business the opportunity to explore and create new technology together. “London and Europe are facing another challenge in the contraction of the financial services sector, which has previously represented up to 12.9 per cent of GDP if you include IT services,” he says. “It’s the innovators in tech and digital and creative that are going to form part of this replacement economic growth.  “You can imagine an idea being created at a hackathon that one day goes on to become a substantial banking mechanism for new, open, transparent banking. Now that is being made possible by the talent and by an environment that supports innovation – with a combination of support from organisations and government.” 

While this all sounds rather cosy, startups and big businesses are clearly in competition for great graduates. Some see a ‘brain drain’ as people choose big bucks in the City over the uncertainty of startup life. But Bob Schukai thinks the issue is more fundamental. “Five guys can build a product and beat you to market in a heartbeat. Big business is going to need that technology talent to be successful and compete at an enterprise level as well as at a consumer level. The challenge in the UK, like the US, is that neither are producing enough STEM grads. That’s where the real problem is.”

American-born Schukai has gone on record many times arguing that foreign graduates in the US should ‘have a green card stapled to their university certificate’ and he thinks much the same is required in the UK. “Anybody that graduates with an advanced technology degree should be given indefinite leave to remain in Britain. These are people that are going to be producing, going to be working in high paying jobs, contributing revenue to Inland Revenue.” 

Wayra’s Ann Parker, however, disagreed with the perception that tech graduates are the only people who can create entrepreneurial success. “Good ideas come from everywhere,” she said, “you don’t need to be a computer scientist to have a great idea for a startup and even if you are a great coder – it doesn’t mean you will be a successful entrepreneur.” 

So if it’s skilled digital workers we lack, why do we have an abundance of idle ‘digital natives’, 1m young people who commentators fear becoming a ‘lost generation’ excluded from employment into adult life? While 16-24-year-olds are never too far from Blackberry Messenger or Facebook, many, it appears, may not understand the opportunities in emerging technologies; the opportunity to become creators, rather than simply consumers. If you were born in the 1990s, the digital natives rather than older digital immigrants, can you help but take technology for granted? 
“’My brother said ‘stop being a waster, have a Sinclair ZX81 [released in 1981]’, and for the first time I felt completely empowered,” says Van der Kleij. “Today, the mobile phone, and especially the smartphone, has made technology incredibly accessible. So many more people understand how apps can solve problems in life and come up with solutions that previously would have required huge amounts of programming expertise. This exposure could catalyse them into entering the computing profession and maybe getting a computer science degree or even entering IT services.” 

With this tech-native generation coming of age in terms of their careers, what does the Government need to do to nurture growth? “The first thing I would say to Government,” Ann Parker at Wayra says, “would be to get more computer programming on the syllabus. People should learn it from age six or seven – do it like speaking French. There also needs to be more work on encouraging more entrepreneurial skills to be taught at school – understanding the concept of cash flow, knowing how much money you have in the bank and not spending more than that.” 

A number of organisations already work for free to excite young people about creating the technologies of the future, including Devcamp and Apps for Good. Reuters’ Schukai is also a mentor for Apps for Good, where participant schools spend a school term building an app from start to finish, with the winning team going on to have their app made for real.  “We think that this can become a feeder for large and small companies across Britain or creating the entrepreneurs of tomorrow,” he says. “We have more than 200 schools and it has become the benchmark programme, but I would love to see more engagement between business and schools.” 

There are many online courses, at minimum cost, as well as free resources that offer a real learning opportunity at a fraction of the debt promised by university. But is it too late by then? Courtney Boyd Myers, audience development director at London’s General Assembly, a tech education and events business, says businesses must work together with educators to help the education system keep up with the pace of change in the tech, digital and mobile industries. “Business both established and startup need to have the resources and knowledge in place to be continually learning, growing and developing in this space,” she says. “Our opportunity and our challenge is to figure out how we can build businesses that help people connect, increase access to healthcare, education and jobs, and provide an infrastructure to create further new businesses.”

So where are these 2m promised jobs of tomorrow going to be? Bob Schukai believes “app exhaustion” may have set in. “But there are other areas that are underexploited, such as health, fitness, and especially education,” he says. “You will see a lot more testing and evaluating jobs that didn’t really exist previously. People in the beginning just sort of built stuff and threw it out the door. You’ve also got to have people who write the automation programs, because the amount and number of mobile products you need to create isn’t going down it’s going up. Those people are eventually going to become developers themselves.”

So far, £6m was pledged in the Autumn Statement to train 3,000 people in technology roles and after intense pressure from the industry, Michael Gove’s controversial EBacc qualification – the education secretary’s proposed GCSE replacement – will now contain computer science as a fourth science option. Business and universities will be consulted in the development of the syllabus, Gove has said. 

But is this all too little too late in the global tech race? “Some of the most exciting ideas come from innovators who have had no formal training. They are not restricted by the fetters of corporate and traditional education,” said Van der Kleij. “But any investment that we can make in education that is more appropriate to the skills that we need at the moment and that we’ll need in the future – any investment that we can make in that is a worthwhile thing to do.”

Written for Mobile Marketing Magazine and first published here:  http://www.mobilemarketingmagazine.com/content/job-centre#ZaiA8MTBVxewdhiq.99

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First published on the Oxfam blog here.


It is the year 2060, I am 72, and I hate to say I told you so.

London is underwater, like Bangkok, Cairo and Shanghai. Venice too, but that was a given, and whole countries, Bangladesh and the Maldives.

World population is said to have peaked, at 9 billion, coinciding with the 4C temperature increase that has drowned whole swathes of continents and scorched others.

Just as in the century preceding it, 2060 has produced winners and losers.

People are starving.

2010

In 2010, I attended the Independent Live climate change debate ahead of the United Nations meeting in Cancun.

Sponsored by Shell and Channel 4, the fate of any progress on international legislation was unhelpfully sealed by our Chair in his opening riposte.

“It is accepted that no agreements will be made in Cancun,” Mike McCarthy, Independent environment editor said.

Political will

I spoke to him afterwards, and he said a point reiterated in the inewspaper, launched only a month earlier: “The Chinese made it crystal clear at Copenhagen that they were absolutely unwilling to be legally bound with regard to emissions.”

He added: “As for the US, Mr Obama’s pledge to cut emissions by 17 per cent last year was predicated on the US Congress agreeing.

“Since the triumph of the Republicans in the mid-term elections, that agreement and the legislation that would result are dead in the water.”

I pressed him, asking if the matter was so urgent, life and death, couldn’t we, the UK, the West make the first move, leave the Chinese behind for now if we had to?

No?

During the debate, they spoke of the technology being ready, but for the political will.

Public will

An impassioned member of the audience stood and said: “the public will is there, we are ready, we need your direction.”

And so we left it, all in agreement, but without dynamic leaders, with little conviction.

MARGJIN, a coalition of charities staged the picture of David Cameron and Barack Obama with the world in their hands in Liverpool.

If only these men had convinced others of the urgency.

Written will

For a fantastic comment on how the left of the media feels about Cancun, check out Johann Hari of the Independent, buried inside the newspaper like much of the coverage of the most destructive issue facing our generation.

Is it irresponsible to leave the decisions down to government, to passively report, when so many lives are at risk?

Young people in Canada are frightened.

Liverpool Oxfam society is hosting an event called ‘1.4 Billion Reasons’ on Monday from 7-9pm in the University Lecture Rooms Building about all the people already living in extreme poverty.

“… And the government that has to make those cuts will make itself unelectable for a generation.” The Coalition.

“… And the government that has to make those cuts will make itself unelectable for a generation.”

Cameron and Clegg would be weeping into their well-tailored suit sleeves at the words of the Panorama reporter, if they weren’t so busy getting off…

Hours and pages of serious coverage, from BBC News 24 to the Economist claim the pair have “got into bed”, after their “civil partnership” in the back garden (tee hee) of Number 10 (nope, can’t make a joke out of that…).

From the media that has grown up alongside the New Labour government that, for all its failings, can be celebrated for legislating to give gay people the right to make a union accepted in the eyes of the law, the crude comparison made when two men stand as a pair, is, actually saddening.

“OOO, it’s like a fake wedding, like one of those fake weddings Elton John got…”

Grow up.

The Independent claims that the “courtship” could have been going on since 2006, the poaching of bright Liberal Democrats to possible Conservative defection.

But this isn’t just a bare-faced switch of allegiance, this wasn’t inevitable, the conclusion needn’t have been foregone.

And unfortunately for those of us who would have preferred a centre-left alliance, the opportunity wasn’t there, Labour weren’t ready.

The government would not have been legitimate if the administration formed was a Lib-Lab coalition.

Although smaller party support was offered by the Scottish National Party, and Plaid Cymru, a “rainbow coalition”, Labour declined, telling maybe of their feeling of guilt?

This too may have created instability, and then what? Another election, with surely a similarly fractured end?

New Labour now need to go away and think about what they’ve done. If it’s our Tory past you’re frightened of, Labour history is more recent.

I will say it and say it again. Two wars, a ‘global financial collapse’ fuelled here by our leader’s belief that he had “ended boom and bust”.

Surely the Venus Fly Trap of a capitalist economy?

Bureaucracy, inequality and greed.

So call it Libcons, Libservatives, or Torycrats if you have to, but two of our political parties have come to a sensible agreement, and I am glad.

With the £163billion deficit and £6bn worth of cuts announced in the Queen’s Speech, nobody can envy the new coalition.

The eyes of the world are on them, or at least we’d like to think they are, and many people are aching for it to fail.

But, scared and scare-mongers amongst us, the Conservatives cannot and will not go off the deep-end. The mines were all closed the first time, for one.

And nobody wants to be hated in the 21st Century, we are Tweeting and Facebook petitioning in the biggest public space there has ever been.

It wouldn’t take a 12-year-old the break during Hollyoaks to super-impose Cameron’s head onto the body of Edward Scissorhands.

So concessions have been made. Some, as a Liberal Democrat member, that I am not happy with.

Will agreeing a referendum on electoral reform produce Nick Clegg’s desired result? The majority of people after all are Labour and Conservative voters, whose parties benefit from the current system.

But if it happens then the kind of coalition like the one being made here would be common-place, which is good.

“What are they doing, compromising and agreeing on things if they’re not from the same party?”
THAT’S THE POINT!!

Some things are just consensus and more heads are often better than few.

And what of opting out of votes on the contentious issues?

Not what Lib Dems wanted, but they didn’t win. We will have to make do.
Academies? Pupil premiums? We shall see… But scrapping wasteful ID cards and rolling back the CCTV state can’t be a bad thing.

But instead of complaining and worrying about cuts, which everyone agreed had to be made, why don’t we, as a nation, get up off our majoratively fat arses and look at what things we could save, because we like or use them, if the government can’t? Leisure services are usually the first to go.

For our hatred of politicians and government, we can’t help but want them to microwave our dinner, put it in front of us and move fork to mouth while massaging our knee.

I hope Ed Miliband gets the Labour leadership. He is a brilliant speaker, and crucially for the necessary severance from New Labour was not an MP when the decision was made to go to war.
And I hope there is a new Left, I’d love to be a part of it.

So Dave, Nick, good luck, fortune favours the brave.