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Digital tech industry growing six times faster than any other sector – How do we bridge the digital skills gap?

What are the best routes into the digital industry in the UK? 

The digital tech industry grew six times faster than any other sector in the UK in 2019.

In the calendar year, there was an increase in the workforce of 40 per cent, up to 2.9 million people, which now accounts for nine per cent of the total number of people employed in the UK.

Only behind the US and China when it comes to the number of tech unicorns produced —tech companies valued at more than £1 billion — the UK leads the way in Europe when it comes to investment raised by tech companies, having secured a third of the £30.4 billion total.

While London, the capital, generated the most investment out of European cities, four of Europe’s top 20 investment cities are also based in the UK.

Manchester, Bristol, Oxford, and Cambridge join London on the list, with Manchester operating as the fastest growing European tech city. Investment in the northern city grew from £48 million in 2018 to £181 million in 2019.

But why is the UK doing so well when it comes to digital?

The UK is, undeniably, a world leader when it comes to digital tech and for this reason it should come as no surprise that many businesses choose to either relocate here or set up camp in the first place. But what actually is it that draws these businesses in?

There is a certain culture here in the UK, one of ambitious entrepreneurship which attracts the attention of business owners. State of the art capabilities and resources that allow UK businesses to stay ahead of alternative European and global competition is certainly one aspect.

While having a plethora of technological innovation sitting right on their doorstep, with the UK housing a number of AI businesses, 5G communication, and data centres, highly skilled individuals are also a major benefit.

Four of the world’s top ten universities are based here in the UK.

Matt Hudson, CEO of Invenia Labs notes:

“Our success is driven by our people, and in Cambridge we are able to attract the best talent in the world from the best universities across the country.”

Owing to the impressive growth the UK has witnessed, however, is the fact that outside London has performed equally well. Back in 2010, then-Prime Minister David Cameron announced plans to transform the Olympic Park in Stratford into a British-Silicon Valley following the conclusion of the sporting games.

Due to rising costs for rental space in the capital, businesses began to look elsewhere. Some of the best performing businesses have established themselves in the Enterprise Zone in Bristol and the Science Park in Cambridge, to name just a few areas.

Success stories

Outside of the capital, Sage, one of Europe’s largest tech companies, has its foundations and headquarters firmly rooted in Newcastle. Opening in 1981, the software company employs more than 13,000 people and operates in 23 countries worldwide. Sage is just one example of a company that has successfully homed in on locally produced talent, working in partnership with the local universities and higher education institutions.

One of Sage’s successful projects has been the development of the Sage Facility at Newcastle University, which specialises in the teaching of cloud computing.

Alongside a large pool of incoming graduates, the North East’s office property costs are some of the lowest in Europe, considerably cheaper than that of Dublin, London, and Manchester. And, essential in many respects for tech companies — the Wi-Fi connection is the second-fastest in the UK, eclipsing that of the capital!

Revolut, meanwhile, have set up their operations in London and haven’t looked back. Despite only being founded in 2015, the financial technology company now services the needs of eight million users worldwide and exists as a true reflection of Britain’s continually booming digital industry.

A mobile app-based bank, Revolut has been described as a “tech super star.” Targeting young, tech-savvy individuals, Revolut has replaced the physical banking experience with modernity. Transfer money abroad in 29 different currencies, convert currencies into the likes of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, and take advantage of free budgeting methods such as vaults.

Based in the centre of London, Revolut has, in its direct eyeline, a plethora of highly skilled individuals.

The question is, how do you come to join such an industry without embarking on the traditional university route?

Many people would think that you need a first-class honours degree in digital marketing, development, or programming to get into the digital industry. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Some of the most successful tech-moguls in the world have made their riches without so much as a day spent at a higher education institution.

Amberlea Henriques from Australian marketing firm #AdSocial notes:

“By no means do you need a degree (or even a high school certificate) but you do need to have studied the subject”. Similarly, Christian Eilers of Recruitment consultant Zetsy advises: “When constant change is the only constant, what counts is general competencies: the ability to learn quickly, a positive attitude, flexibility…”.

Because digital is changing at such a rapid pace, formal education can sometimes become outdated. However, the likes of HubSpot Academy, an online courses platform, is regularly updated in line with recent developments, offering more in the way of progress and opportunity for those embarking on it.

Sitting idle in lockdown is undoubtedly the perfect time to complete a variety of these online courses. Browse through catalogues of programmes that have been offered up for free by a variety of institutions.


Research conducted by STEM Learning found that in 2018, 89 per cent of tech businesses struggled to recruit at some stage. However, apprenticeships are working hard to bridge the gap.

Manchester-based hosting and cloud provider UKFast is one such example of a business who is adapting apprenticeships to meet the necessary requirements of the industry.

Homing in on leadership and communication skills alongside the relevant technical knowledge is crucial in establishing a well-rounded professional who has not passed through the university channel. The benefits of these finely crafted programmes are three-fold: the business, the apprentice, and the industry as a whole, helping to quash this skills gap.

An apprenticeship is an alternative, direct avenue into the world of tech and digital, offering real work experience with the help and support of industry experts. What better way to crack the code than to work on it every day!


The age-old rhetoric of “it’s not what you know, but who you know” still plays an important role in success today, despite the fact it is certainly not outweighed by merit.

Of course, young aspiring professionals are lucky in 2020, thanks to online networking platforms such as LinkedIn, but the power of face-to-face interaction should never be underestimated.

Attending events can open up a metaphoric can of worms that offers endless possibility. In London, hopefuls in the design field could attend the likes of Glug and VFX Festival, which focus on breaking down the barriers into design and paving a way into said roles. Alternatively, become a part of the hugely popular London Tech Week which runs during the first week in September. A home of innovation, London Tech Week is attended by more than 50,000 people and covers everything that digital involves itself in.

In the North East, those trying to find a way into the digital-tech sphere are at an advantage with events like Nomad Digital’s Rocket Hack offering the opportunity to display your talents and abilities before some of the region’s leading businesses. At this exciting event you’ll have the chance to explore all manner of innovations, including passenger information systems.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking to get involved in the fastest growing tech city in Europe, you’ll be glad to know Manchester is consistently hosting events, such as the Digital City Expo, set up by Tech Nation.

Don’t assume that without a degree you are automatically without a look in when it comes to getting a job in the world of technology — some of the best in the business didn’t follow that route. At the end of the day, it’s all about innovation and ambition!

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