Anne Sheehan
Anne Sheehan, Enterprise Director, Vodafone UK

How can towns and cities across the UK can attract and retain digital talent?

The UK is home to millions of vibrant and diverse businesses. A recent Vodafone study found more than 50 locations with the potential to become ‘Digital Super Towns’ or leading tech hubs of the future. However, for the UK to benefit from this potential, and to drive economic growth, we need digital talent across the UK.

With more than 100,000 people per year, leaving the region in which they lived and studied to start work elsewhere within six months of graduating (source: Higher Education 2016), many regions face a ‘brain drain’ situation.

To turn this ‘brain drain’ into a ‘brain gain’, local towns and cities – and the businesses within them – play an important role in helping to retain digital talent.

Here are three approaches that are key to attracting and retaining digital talent across our UK towns and cities:

  1. Ensuring your town is attractive for digital entrepreneurs

To appeal and connect with digital talent, businesses should aim to make their town or city as attractive as possible for digital entrepreneurs.

Many businesses will flourish in a collaborative environment if they are offered low-cost, co-working spaces or buildings designed to foster start-up activity. Local authorities could consider, for example, offering unused or underused public sector buildings to provide low-cost office space for start-ups.

Councils could also create a local network of digital mentors and host regular drop-ins at co-working spaces. By sharing knowledge and understanding of new technologies, these communities can become critical in helping businesses adopt new digital tools – making emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) more accessible.

  1. Build a better digital infrastructure

Upgrading the UK’s digital infrastructure is essential if we are to continue to be a digital leader; and critical in enabling towns and cities to take advantage of the opportunities provided by technologies such as cloud computing and robotics. It’s clear that, whether it’s using AI to improve customer services or IoT to track local deliveries, connectivity sits at the heart of current and future technologies.

As delivering a strategy for full-fibre and 5G will be key, both national and local governments should be empowered and encouraged to support the timely upgrade of digital infrastructure.

  1. Provide opportunities for the digitally-skilled to return to work

There are huge economic opportunities from helping digital talent return to work after a career break. The UK Government has already recognised this, recently launching several returner programmes.

Through understanding how such programmes can help retain and grow digital talent - and by sharing best practice between organisations - local authorities can promote the benefits of returner programmes and encourage more employers to consider them.

**Final thoughts ** The UK is ideally placed to be a world-leading technology and digital leader and there are many opportunities for towns and cities to encourage this at a local level. Doing so will create more productive and prosperous communities where people want to live and work, in turn ensuring the UK grows and retains a healthy pipeline of digital talent nationwide.

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