Welsh technology firms may not attract enough European workers after Brexit.
Wales’ tech industry shows signs of progress but faces uncertainty as it may not attract enough skilled workers post-Brexit, according to an expert.
Andrew Henley, professor of Entrepreneurship and Economics at Cardiff University, said a decline of skilled workers from European countries may affect technological companies in Cardiff, Wales’ largest tech hub, after Brexit is completed in 2019.
If the UK no longer attracts skilled European workers after Brexit, London “will drain even more talent away from cities like Cardiff,” said the vice-chair of the Economic and Social Research Council’s Capability Committee, the UK’s largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues.
Mr Henley, who is also a board member of the Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship said: “Kids leave Wales aged 18 to head off to English universities, many of them in London and the South-East, and they don’t come back again.
“It’s already quite difficult for companies [in the UK] to employ talent from outside the European Union. More importantly is whether it will discourage talented people from thinking about coming and work here in Britain.”
Since the collapse of the coal industry, South Wales is emerging as a technology-driven region. There are currently 17,471 digital jobs between Cardiff and Swansea, according to Tech City UK, a government-backed initiative which promotes ambitious tech companies.
Learnium, for example, is a young company based in Cardiff that provides a social learning platform to institutions and businesses in 96 countries. It currently employs seven people and wishes to expand its workforce.
Anthony Ash, a digital marketing specialist at Learnium, said their ambition is “to build the product into something even bigger and better. We need more people to do that. We want to bring more jobs to Wales.”
But how Welsh tech companies are going to attract skilled workers from overseas after Brexit remains unclear. One of the biggest Brexit-related problems UK employers face is a decrease in skilled European workers, according to a report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.
Yet, the Welsh government encourages developments in the tech sector. Learnium, for instance, is funded by the Welsh government and Wesley Clover, if the company is located in Wales.
This year, UK government provided £50m towards a new Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult based in Wales, creating around 2,000 jobs and aiming to become Europe’s major semiconductors tech cluster.
And in November, the government announced it will be investing £4bn in “industries of the future”, such as artificial intelligence. Professor Steven Schockaert at Cardiff University’s school of computer sciences and informatics said: “It’s hopeful that artificial intelligence is seen by the government as a priority.”
As long as the UK maintains its position as having leading universities and companies people will continue to come, according to Mr Henley. “I don’t think anybody really seriously thinks that the British government post Brexit are going to stop talented people in Britain.”
Yet there is a risk that Wales will not be able to develop a real tech cluster if companies fail to attract skilled workers after Brexit. In Wales, there is still a lack of opportunity for graduates, Mr Henley said. “Graduates tend to want to go straight into the big corporates, and we don’t have that kind of graduate-absorbent, graduate employing activity to any great extent here.”