Daily Echo:

Attracting and retaining talent is the key to safeguarding Southampton’s future success in the technology sector , says Oliver Kelly, a partner at BDB Pitmans, Southampton

SOUTHAMPTON is a great place to launch a digital tech business. With its growing reputation as a burgeoning tech hub, transport links and easy access to London, any business looking for space to expand or start up, should have Southampton on its wish list.

According to Tech Nation, Southampton has a £2.1 billion digital tech business turnover up 41% from 2014 – 2017. In 2017, four Southampton companies raised money through the ICURe Innovation-to-Commercialisation programme. Piloted by the SETsquared Partnership and Innovate UK, it offers university researchers with commercially-promising ideas up to £50,000 to ‘get out of the lab’ and validate their ideas in the marketplace.

Furthermore, recent research reveals that Southampton has one of the fastest growing tech sectors in Europe. The report by estate advisors CBRE – EMEA Tech Cities: Opportunities in Technology Hotspots – ranks Southampton at number five in the ‘Super Cluster’ category. The city also has excellent international connections – a 2015 FedEx report singled out Southampton as an “export epicentre” with one of the highest export rates of any city: 81 per cent of small businesses in the area trade overseas.

Whilst the technology industry is continuously advancing, finding and retaining the talent required for innovative technology companies is one of the largest challenges currently faced by any company.

Technology companies struggle first with finding local talent (as it is more globally distributed than ever) and then retaining talent (due to the brutal competition that occurs in the technology sector). It is undeniable that there is a technology skills shortage in the UK that needs to be addressed through investing in (and prioritising) science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, retraining individuals into these sectors, and implementing appropriate immigration policies.

The University of Southampton acts as a bedrock to the active tech scene in this city. It is home to the world-leading Web Science Institute, which tackles the big challenges facing the World Wide Web and society. It is also one of the founding members of the SETsquared partnership, a business incubation network run by five universities in the south.

With more jobs opening in Southampton, it is vital that we attract and retain the millennial talent to stay in the city, settle and have families. Three in four most in-demand UK jobs (among high-skilled job-seekers) are in technology – SAP consultant, iOS developer, Android developer and Java developer with an average salary of £52,000. This draw to a comfortable salary, complemented by the lifestyle of Southampton, would be a real tonic to the millennial burn-out that we see increasingly reported in the news.

The UK’s popularity among technology talent from outside the EU (India, for example) is thought to work in its favor when it comes to Brexit. The immigration policy in relation to non-EU employees should not be affected by Brexit, meaning that the technology sector should be one of the least affected industries in the UK.

Companies that can work with remote teams and build strong cultures have a greater chance of success in the technology talent sphere. Focus needs to be given to encouraging more women and ethnic minorities into the tech industry, as the sector is currently missing out on the expertise and different perspectives that a large proportion of the population can provide.

Southampton is home to a diverse set of communities and the growth of the tech sector should be welcomed by business leaders and encouraged to ensure that the future wellbeing of Southampton is developed by local talent.