Government hands out tech grants but faces IT skills crisis

With 2.6 million unemployed, many tech firms still can’t find quality staff.

It's been announced that ten British companies are to lead government-backed research, development and demonstration projects that will use talent in the UK's information and communication technology sectors in an attempt to improve productivity and competitiveness in manufacturing and construction. But the news comes amidst growing concern that the technology industry itself is facing a skills crisis.

The Technology Strategy Board and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council will award over £6m of grant funding to the ten collaborative projects. Including match-funding from the businesses taking part, the total value of the R&D will be around £12m.

But numerous technology firms have told the NS that they are struggling to find high quality graduates to fill vacant positions. Others say there is a lack of enthusiasm amongst graduates for careers in technology, despite David Cameron's hopes that initiatives like Tech City or "Silicon Roundabout" in Old Street will act as a hub to spur economic growth.

Loughborough-based clean power systems firm Intelligent Energy employs 250 people in total, spread across the UK, US and India. Its CEO Dr. Henri Winand told us that the firm has a number of vacancies in the UK, but that "There is a lack of applicants for some roles, especially those jobs which require more science and engineering backgrounds, or indeed, people with solid programme management skills."

Such comments are backed up by research published today by IT recruitment firm, Modis International. Its survey of 250 IT decision-makers in the UK found that 27 per cent are struggling to source quality candidates, rising to 44 per cent in larger firms. The survey found that over one third of companies are struggling to implement their own IT strategies because they haven't got the right skills in-house; 23 per cent plan to turn to temporary specialist contractors to plug the gap. "The IT industry is in danger of a skills crisis," said Jim Albert, Modis managing director.

The story was the same with a range of technology companies, with only a few saying that they have been able to find graduates that meet expectations, or even show any enthusiasm for technology jobs. Backup Technology's CEO Simon Chappell told the NS it has open positions for graduates, but at one university only five people bothered to turn up to their careers presentation: "Surprising, given job market conditions and the numbers of unemployed graduates and young people," he noted.

The Government has launched various apprenticeship programmes and growth and innovation schemes such as "Silicon Roundabout" and it's offered some tax breaks to tech entrepreneurs and investors. Yet it seems, from the majority of technology firms we spoke to, that these initiatives are not yet paying off in terms of attracting the right kind of candidates into the technology industry.

Jason Stamper is NS technology correspondent and editor of Computer Business Review: read the full report at

Jason Stamper is editor of Computer Business Review

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Does the UK care enough about climate change to admit it is part of the problem?

The government’s energy policies make can make it hard to decipher its commitment to emissions reduction.

“People tell me it’s ridiculous to be flying for a climate change project but you have to get real with it, I mean I can’t cycle across the Southern ocean,” says Daniel Price, an environmental scientist from London. As founder of Pole-to-Paris, Price is about to complete a 17,000km bike ride from the Antarctic to the Arc de Triomphe.

Price came up with the idea in an effort to raise public awareness of COP21, the UN Climate Change Conference taking place in Paris next week. During the trip he’s faced a succession of set-backs: from the discovery that boats were prohibitively expensive, to diplomatic tensions scuppering his Russian visa plans. Yet the darkest moments were when he became overwhelmed by the magnitude of his own mission. “There were difficult times when I just thought, ‘What is the point of this’?” he says. “Cycling round the world is nowhere near enough to engage people.” 

As world leaders descend on Paris, many questions remain unanswered. Not least how much support developing nations will receive in tackling the effects of climate change. New research commissioned by Oxfam claims that such costs could rise to £1.7tn a year by 2050. But with cuts kicking in at home, the need to deliver “climate justice” abroad feels like a bigger ask than ever.

So does Britain really care enough about climate change to accept its full part in this burden? The government’s energy policies make can make it hard to decipher its commitment to emissions reduction. In September, however, it did pledge £5.8bn from the foreign aid fund to helping poorer nations combat climate change (twice that promised by China and the United States). And there’s evidence to suggest that we, as a public, may also care more than we think.

In America attitudes are much darker; in the dismissive words of Donald Trump “It’s called the weather”. Not least since, as a recent study proves, over the last twenty years corporations have systematically spread scepticism about the science. “The contrarian efforts have been so effective," says the author Justin Farrell, a Yale sociologist, "that they have made it difficult for ordinary Americans to even know who to trust.” 

And what about in China, the earth's biggest polluter? Single-party rule and the resulting lack of public discussion would seem to be favouring action on the environment. The government has recently promised to reach "peak" emissions by 2030, to quadruple solar installations, and to commit $3.1bn to help low-income countries adapt to the changing world. Christiana Figueres, the UN’s chief climate official, has even lauded the country for taking “undisputed leadership” on climate change mitigation.

Yet this surge of policy could mask the most troubling reality of all: that, when it comes to climate change, the Chinese are the least concerned citizenship in the world. Only 18 per cent of Chinese see the issue as a very serious problem, down 23 percentage points from five years ago, and 36 points behind the global median.

A new study by political economist Dr Alex Lo has concluded that the country’s reduced political debate could be to blame for the lack of concern. “In China popular environmentalism is biased towards immediate environmental threats”, such as desertification and pollution, Lo writes, “giving little impetus to a morally driven climate change movement”.

For the international community, all is well and good as long as the Chinese government continues along its current trajectory. But without an engaged public to hold it to account there’s always a chance its promises may fade into thin air.

So perhaps the UK’s tendency to moan about how hard it is to care about the (seemingly) remote impacts of climate change isn’t all bad. At least we know it is something worth moaning about. And perhaps we care more than we let on to each other.

Statistics published this summer by the Department of Energy and Climate Change reveal that three quarters of the British public support subsidies for renewable energy, despite only 10 per cent thinking that the figure is that high. “Even if the public think the consensus is not there, there are encouraging signs that it is,” says Liz Callegari, Head of Campaigns at WWF. “Concern for climate change is growing.”

As Price puts it, “You can think of climate change as this kind of marathon effort that we have to address and in Paris we just have to get people walking across the start line together”. Maybe then we will all be ready to run.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.