A tech-first approach will also help businesses adapt to ‘black swan’ events such as COVID-19 in future, argues Cloudstratex’s Fred Flack

The International Monetary Fund’s first World Economic Outlook for 2020 was published in January and stated that the UK’s economic growth would likely stabilise at 1.4 percent this year, assuming an “orderly exit from the European Union”.

Fast forward three months to April and we find that Brexit is the least of our worries, as the UK economy is asphyxiated by COVID-19 and now expected to contract by 6.5%.

Key to the UK’s speedy recovery will be the UK’s technology sector, which saw investment of £10.1bn in 2019, the highest level in UK history, outstripping even China and the USA. There are a myriad of reasons why this happened, but there is one clear takeaway: the UK has a competitive advantage in its technology base that will support wealth and job creation – if the right conditions are provided for it to thrive.

While having the latest modern infrastructure in place such as full fibre ultrafast broadband will facilitate this, investment in skills training must also be prioritised. This will enable UK plc to secure and maximise business opportunities, as well as offer job seekers viable, prosperous careers.

A sharp rise in unemployment, estimated by the Employment Studies to reach at least 2.5 million – 7.5% of the workforce – is a far quicker rise than in any of our last three recessions. There is a litany of evidence showing that long term unemployment can be both physically and mentally damaging.

This is especially so for young people looking to find work during a downturn, as they may experience “significant lower earnings and employment” than if they had entered the labour market at another time according to the IES.

‘Youth is the present, not just the future’ is a phrase commonly heard at our Talent Academy, a training pathways programme, built to create the next generation of technologists and leaders. It serves as an important reminder that the UK’s young people need investment, support, and training now if they are going to have the best chance to become successful professionals, and the business leaders of the future.

Doing so not only makes employees feel valued but also dramatically improves their life chances. Employers also benefit from reduced staff turnover and greater employment engagement, as staff feel engaged and invested in. Not to forget that they lead a digitally savvy workforce!

Therefore, it is a ‘win-win’ for both parties – but also for the wider economy.

The end goal of modern business should be to become digitally self-sufficient, so they grow into significantly more resilient, adaptable, and resourceful entities. If your business understands technology, the latest developments within the industry, and how to utilise it for the benefits of your customers and clients, you will be in a strong position to succeed.

Also having a competent understanding of technology will enable you to better deal with future ‘black swan’ events such as COVID-19 or the 2008 global recession, because your business will be geared up towards home working, or being able to utilise the latest cloud computing platforms to manage your digital workflows.

Unfortunately, there is a mass deficit of talent to ensure all businesses can do so, and no specific provision for digital skills in the Government’s latest Budget, which for all intents and purposes is now redundant.

Given the current crisis, the digital skills agenda is unlikely to be addressed by government for some months to come. Therefore, businesses need to revisit their business strategy in order to prioritise training and upskilling for their staff, especially with regard young professionals.

By investing in online courses, or outsourcing training and support now, they will have a greater chance of being able to leverage next generation technologies effectively and competitively after the lockdown ends.