LinkedIn UK MD: The Risk Of A London Tech Exodus Is Real

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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INTERVIEW: LinkedIn’s Josh Graff says UK firms must do more to keep the best tech talent in the capital amid fierce competition and rising living costs

London based Technology companies and other employers seeking to fill digital roles risk missing out on the most highly skilled graduates, LinkedIn has warned.

Josh Graff, UK managing director of the professional social network, said competition from within the UK and abroad, coupled with high living costs, meant businesses in the capital must do more to attract the best talent.

According to LinkedIn’s data, the number of technology roles is increasing, but the risk of a London “exodus” was real.

Capital tech ‘exodus’

london city hall“I’m always amazed at the trends you can get from our data,” Graff told TechWeekEurope. “London is a great magnet for talent. In software, the number of professionals has shot up year-on-year and is the highest rate of growth from all the industries we were monitoring.”

“[But] with grads specifically, London was losing a third of its talent. Some of the talent is flowing to other parts of the UK and others are going internationally – the US, China and Germany.

“There is an urgency for London-based tech companies to double down and make sure they are continuing to attract the best talent. Our message is to start to be concerned about the potential exodus and start thinking about your employer brand. Start offering more apprenticeships etc. You need to have tools to refer graduates.”

Wider issues

London’s tech community has long held fears that the tech scene could be held back by a lack of suitable office space and rising living costs for workers and these are concerns echoed by Graff.

“As an industry we need to solve the challenges young graduates face,” he said. They want to stay in the city but need help financially. I don’t think that’s unique to the tech industry.”

“As an industry, and government, we need to be collectively working. If you look at what the Mayor and everyone does that with tech specifically, they’ve voiced their commitment to the sector. There’s a positive view there.”

Graff recognised that a skills gap was partly to blame for the difficulty in recruitment, but he also said that as more businesses digitise, the greater the competition for talent.

“Digital has changed every company,” he said. “Tech companies would traditionally compete with other tech firms but in today’s environment everyone is competing for engineers, so it’s important to brand yourself to other communities.”

Is it really that bad?

london black cabBut is a move away from London really that bad?

London has long had a reputation for drawing in Britain’s best young minds, arguably to the detriment of the rest of the UK.

With regional tech hubs and superfast broadband making it easier than ever to work in any part of the country, perhaps a re-balancing of the digital economy is a good thing.

Graff was more guarded on this issue, accepting that a less London-centric economy had its benefits but that the point about a capital exodus still stood.

“A partial departure from London isn’t a bad thing because it provides value to the rest of the country, but tech firms need to make sure this isn’t an exodus,” he said. “I think there’s wonderful opportunity for grads in all sectors to find placements elsewhere in the country. That is net positive for the UK economy, but I do think in London specifically there is an exodus of talent in tech and software.”

What about Brexit?

And what about Brexit? Any restrictive immigration policies would make it significantly harder for tech employers to recruit the best minds, something the capital’s tech community made it abundantly clear in both the run up to the London mayoral elections and the EU referendum.

“I don’t want to speculate too much as there’s a lot we don’t know,” said Graff. “London and the UK specifically has one of the most international workforces in the world and its ability to compete with other cities in the world is important. Even before Brexit the battle was keeping up and this has exacerbated it.”

“It is incredibly important to keep London as a hotbed of tech talent. With that uncertainty, but the advice we give to individuals and companies doesn’t change.”

Quiz: What do you know about London’s technology scene?