It is widely accepted that there is no hiding from the current digital revolution – what is unclear is where we are in that revolution and what our economy and society will look like when we emerge. The technological change that we are seeing in terms of computing power, battery and sensor technology and machine learning/AI is disrupting business models, how we regard work and even our idea of individual sectors and markets at a rapid pace.
Companies are having to grapple with this change, trying to ascertain what characteristics and skills they need to thrive and take advantage of the scale and pace of change.
Regions too are having to grapple with this question.
Whilst digitisation is rendering geography less important in trade and commerce, it is not a contradiction to say that locality is becoming increasingly important. Digital skills are an increasingly scarce resource as the demand for them outstrips supply. This is coupled with an increasingly mobile workforce, meaning that regions need to work harder to attract and retain those with the skills able to thrive in the digital revolution. The same is even true of businesses who, in an increasingly service based world, are tied to less physical infrastructure than ever before.
Smart place-based initiatives bind together clusters of excellence in a locality, as well as bring public services closer to its users. This will help ensure that the people in the local area are happier, healthier and more engaged – and ultimately, less likely to desire to leave the area.
The exact make-up of these cluster will differ depending on the existing strengths of the area. However, it is hard to see digital not playing an integral role in some form. Our sector is not just one of the main driving forces of the current industrial revolution. This has also helped us be incredibly resilient to the change; the number of jobs in the digital tech sector grew by 13 per cent between 2014 and 2017. These jobs were also more productive than those in non-digital jobs, by an average of £10,000 per annum.
So what does this mean at the local level? In the Northern Powerhouse region alone, it has grown by nearly 25,000 jobs over the past decade and is currently forecast to add nearly another 9,000 in the next five years.
Regions, and those with metro mayors, are in a strong place to deliver on this need to create the right environment and ecosystem to enable and supercharge these clusters. This year, techUK’s flagship event at the Manchester Science Park Supercharging the Digital Economy brings leading experts together from this ecosystem and the private and public sector where they will focus on the digital revolution, what it means for sectors and what it means for the North. Come and join us to explore the answers to these questions.
By Matthew Evans, Executive Director, SmarterUK and IoT, techUK