What role will tech play in the recovery of COVID?

Technology is a vital and core part of everyday life, and even more so now since COVID-19 struck and we faced a global lockdown.

This was definitely a core message of this year’s London Tech Week, and as Nadine Dorries MP and Secretary of State for Digital Culture, Media and Sport opened this year’s celebrations she made the statement: “Everyone in Government understands how important tech is for our country, it is going to be essential for our recovery to COVID.”

The UK tech industry raised £13bn in the first half of this year for the economy, and this is not just in London it is all over the country that businesses are smashing the tech scene. Nadine added: “We want businesses to grow and thrive here in the UK, of course to scale globally but be based here in the UK. I am going to listen and help to grow tech in the UK to new heights.”

Innovation is key, and is at the heart of future plans, as Nadine also said she is keen to encourage more pension funds to invest into tech.

So with all this positivity, growth and hope what does that mean for the tech sector, and what did London Tech week really highlight about the current situation?

Rajesh Agrawal, The Deputy Mayor for Business was also there to share insights in what was his eighth year of London Tech week. He started by highlighting that London is truly the home place of innovation and a place where entrepreneurs can thrive.

It is now time to build back better from the pandemic, and as the tech sector has seen a record breaking six months it is clear this is a dynamic and booming ecosystem which is so important for the future. Although the last 18 months have been difficult for everyone in different ways, there is also some positives to take, as some of the best innovation has been born from a time of crisis.

Rajesh said: “Tech truly has the power to drive resilience, sustainable economic recovery and growth to help provide more inclusive societies where tech is not only accessible, but also relevant for long term future plans.”

What action is required in the tech sector to drive economic recovery?

One of the most positive things is how robust this industry is, and tech is at the centre of this. The Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng MP, Secretary of State for Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy explained that the adoption of Internet Shopping is one small example of this robustness – this is a great opportunity for tech to thrive even more and we need to get it right here.

To drive recovery and growth even further, Brian Cassin, CEO at Experian, said we need to look at digital solutions and invest in these. What COVID has done is accelerated the digitalisation of the economy by about a decade. We have this opportunity to now invest in the digital growth, for businesses to drive forward.

The last 18 months have been transformative, and tech has been the driver of jobs. But, now we are in a predicament where we don’t have sufficient skills and resources – so how do we bridge this digital gap? Dayne Turbitt, Senior Vice President and GM at Dell Technologies commented: “The digital skills gap is just getting bigger and bigger, so we need to act on this, and we need to act quickly. We are in a good place with advancements in technology and solutions, so now it is time to bring the people up to same level. Geography is no longer a problem, and it gives us the opportunity to look at more skills from more areas.”

COVID has accelerated tech and digital and it has become a lot more mainstream. Brian added: “We need to make sure we have a workforce and people with skills to fit in this digital landscape. This could be the beginning of some incredible changes that lead to incredible things.”

Skills are hugely important, and this is something we really need to focus on going forward. People need to be open minded Kwasi said: “People were worried about AI and machine learning taking jobs away, actually it has done the opposite and really accelerated it. But, now we have a shortage of people, so it is about education, retraining and reskilling.”

Karen McCormick, CIO at Beringea added that employment is the biggest issue around the portfolio at the moment. “In London there is a shortage in skills, but then this also makes retraining important, and employers are helping in this.”

Exploring the education element in this problem, it is not just about STEM, it needs to be a broader offer with regards to skills. There has been a huge transformation with businesses like online click and collect, delivering online solutions – so we need to educate and ensure skills and programmes are being taught that perhaps previously haven’t. It comes down to the ability to handle data and store this data and use it correctly. Small to medium businesses not always in this realm so there are new solutions popping up now to help these smaller businesses with expansions and digital growth.

This shift in technology has helped so many startups and early stage businesses launch because the costs of technology are lower and the use of AI makes it so much easier for tech companies to build platforms and solutions. Karen commented: “It has been great in seeing more businesses launch that may not have prior to this pandemic.”

The shift isn’t just in the advancements and growth either, the way people are looking at tech has shifted also. Kwasi explained: “When we say technology people think of a pure tech company, but that is wrong as almost every business is going to have to use technology otherwise they won’t survive and people are starting to realise this more.”

Seeing this growth and acceleration is amazing, but a common point that was pointed out at London Tech Week was that we do need to make it an inclusive growth and for the industry to allow everyone to thrive, otherwise we will start to see people not making it.

There is a lot of people who are fully involved and understand the role and importance of technology, but there are still so many people who don’t and aren’t getting involved. Kwasi said it is about trying to bring them in some more and getting everyone on the same page. Dayne added: “Otherwise opportunities can be limited. The tech industry and Government need to work closely together to keep the ecosystem together and solve more problems.”