Job roles within tech increased by 40% in the first third of the year thanks to a surge in-demand within the ‘hybrid-tech sector’ – namely fintech, edtech, healthtech, and agritech – according to global recruiter Robert Walters.
The UK is Europe's top scaling tech nation, and with a record £10.1bn investment last year it is fast increasing its lead in the world. In fact, if the UK and China see the same level of tech investment continue respectively, then the UK will overtake China as the second tech nation - behind only the USA. (Tech Nation Report 2020)
Tom Chambers, Senior Manager – Technology at Robert Walters, comments: “In the last few years, tech start-ups and scaleups have received a notable amount of funding, and in the last few weeks alone we have seen government (as well as VC’s) allocate more funding towards high demand industries.
“Thanks to a strong talent pool and foundation in investment, the UK is in a very strong position globally to be able to continue on its trajectory. The current climate will be a hotbed for tech-savvy, entrepreneurial minds to launch or grow their business. These individuals may have no training at all in medicine, farming, or education, but bring expertise in data science and analytics, computing and behavioural economics.”
Tom Chambers outlines the hybrid-industries that will be in particular demand in 2020.
On the 18 March, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans to enforce nationwide closure of state schools across the country. With only days’ notice, the education sector had no time to prepare for children to have a prolonged period away from the classroom – posing a huge threat to educational attainment, exams procedures and prep, and general development and social skills.
Within days, schools and universities had turned to online learning tools as a solution - putting unprecedented demand on the UK’s edtech sector.
Tom Chambers comments: “What the Covid-19 outbreak very quickly highlighted to the UK (and western/developed countries) is how education is one of the most traditional industries in the world – having not transformed its delivery methods in the last 100 years.
“Lack of resources, limited funding, poor teaching facilities and inadequate infrastructure in developing countries has resulted in them actually being the early adopters of disruptive edtech – from virtual classrooms, to e-learning and gamification.
“Up until now, true all-encompassing adoption of edtech has been much slower in the western world. Now with lockdown measures in place across the globe, the western world is waking up to the benefits and efficiencies of technology in education. Now more than ever, competition amongst the industry will be rife.”
Luckily, the UK has by no means lagged behind in this realm and edtech is in fact one of the UK's fastest growing sectors - growing at 22% year-on-year. The industry is worth an estimated £170 million to the UK economy in exports alone – highlighting the rate of adoption in other countries outside of the UK.
Last year, it was predicted that the UK edtech market was to reach £3.4bn by 2021 (out of a total of £100bn UK education market) – with this figure now poised to be much higher in light of the Covid-19 outbreak.
With spending and funding rife, the industry shows no signs of slowing down. Pre Covid-19, UK schools were spending £900 million on edtech each year. This week, government has pledged to commit over £100 million to boost remote education.
Tom adds: “The UK is home to more than 1,200 edtech companies - approximately a quarter of the total number in Europe. Coupled with this, the UK ranks number one in edtech venture capital funding in Europe – receiving more than a third (34%) of total investment to the continent.
“The existing strength of our edtech industry pre-outbreak uniquely positions the UK has being able to be a true global leader in this space – creating jobs for people within tech, teaching, growth marketing, and finance.”
Nowhere is any industry under more pressure than pharma & healthcare – UK and globally. In the UK alone the NHS launched a major recruitment campaign resulting in over 20,000 retired NHS staff returning to service, as well as over 24,000 final year students entering the NHS for the first time.
Whilst widespread media focus has remained on frontline staff, UK healthtech companies have been joining the global fight to help tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
Since the Covid-19 outbreak we have seen an all-Ireland online platform launch to boost business collaboration – with an initial focus on healthcare innovation. Welsh government have launched a COVID-19 Symptom Tracker app, to help track the disease. The app is currently in use by 38,000 people in Wales, and 2 million across the UK.
California has historically been the hotbed for health tech innovation, but the tables look to be turning. In fact, it was London’s Babylon Health which closed 2019’s biggest healthtech deal, raising £441m from Saudi investors to develop diagnostic software for its remote care platform. The company is now valued at more than £1.6bn.
The UK is showing every sign of trying to lead the charge in healthtech solutions. Last year, the NHSX was launched - a new body that will lead the digital transformation of public healthcare nationwide.
Now, the purpose of the NHSX healthtech initiative is being put to the test with £500,000 of new funding being made available for new technology that can be scaled “within weeks” to support people who are self-isolating due to coronavirus. After receiving 1,600 applications since 23 March, 18 innovative digital solutions have been awarded up to £25,000 to help test and get their product off the ground.
Tom Chambers comments: “The healthtech industry has been growing in the UK, driven predominantly by the ‘enablers’ of digital health innovation – the government.
“The effects of an ageing population and a financially-strained NHS, have encouraged the NHS and government to take a data-driven approach to treating and preventing long term conditions and also transform how we access care.
“All of this activity in the UK has meant that investment has skyrocketed in the past five years, growing by 131%. Last year alone, £1.7 billion was invested in UK start-ups and scaleups.”
According to the Association of British HealthTech Industries, the UK healthtech sector is now the largest employer in the broader Life Sciences industry, employing 127,400 people in 3,860 companies, with a combined turnover of £24 billion.
Tom adds: “The coronavirus pandemic is a global priority, and the healthtech industry has been quick to respond. From testing and vaccinating, rise in contactless appointments, to producing life-saving equipment - we are seeing established tech start-ups adapting their areas of expertise to help play their part in the fight.
“The light that the government is shining on the healthtech sector will give birth to a new generation of entrepreneurs, start-ups and tech-savvy individuals in the UK, helping to position us a global hub for talent in the years to come.
“The kind of tech we are seeing created in this space in the UK is very consumer focused and app-driven – from smart medical devices, and wearable equipment, to health monitoring apps, heat sensors and remote appointments tools.”
From soaring demand for fresh produce, an over-stretched supply chain system, and seasonal labour shortages on farms due to border closures, the agricultural industry has its fair share of challenges ahead of them in the coming months.
Tom Chambers comments: “The implementation of technology into the agricultural, farming, food and supply chain industry is becoming more and more important. Covid-19 is putting pressure on the UK agricultural industry to redefine its farming and food supply chains, and to accelerate the pace at which it commercialises and adopts new agritech innovations to deliver sustainable change.
“The industry and the many facets within it mean that tech opportunities are wide ranging – from informing trade strategies, to crop optimisation and satellite imagery.”
Luckily, the UK is no stranger to agricultural innovation (agritech) having led the agricultural revolution of the 18th century - introducing innovative farming practices such as crop rotations.
The country has a stellar history of being a world leader in plant and animal science and is home to some of the most established agricultural research institutions in the world. With 20% of the UK workforce in science, talent and experience is also not an issue. Last year, the UK’s agritech sector garnered £1.84bn of investment.
When it comes to efficiency and technology, the UK’s agriculture industry is far ahead and highly mechanised, producing 50 per cent of the food it needs with only two per cent of the workforce.
Tom Chambers states: “Agritech innovations help with food supply, waste reduction, improving productivity in the food chain, sustainable crop health, precision farming and, eventually, healthier and better value food for us all.
“With the pace at which the climate, world population and human behaviour is changing, there is without a doubt that agritech is one of the most important technology sectors in the world.”
Now into our sixth week of social distancing measures, nothing has quite been impacted like our traditional ability to communicate.
For personal communication; instant messaging, shared gaming, and group video calls are nothing new. The tech has been worked on for a number of years to allow for the most user-friendly experience. Apps such as Houseparty or InstagramLive have given birth to a new generation of social distancing get-togethers or personal training sessions.
The transition for employees to remote working in the UK has been particularly impressive, with managers able to stay in-touch with their team via online platforms such as Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts or Microsoft Teams. The nature of these platforms, once downloaded, are one-click access – much like that of a phone call.
Tom Chambers comments: “Where we are seeing the biggest need for improved tech in this area is ‘communication at scale’. Customer-facing firms – in particular those who rely on call-centres as a touch point – are under immense pressure to improve their communication systems, reduce wait times, and speed-up access to vital information.”
In the past few weeks, we have seen website servers crash. In some cases, financial institutions, lenders and service providers have temporarily suspended call centres and instead asked customers to leave voicemails, fill online forms, or send text messages requesting a call back.
Tom Chambers adds: “Communication tools are probably one of the trickiest for tech to assist with – mostly because communication is human-led and therefore so personal and subjective and so a one-size-fits-all approach wont work.
“Institutions have been trialling and tweaking products for years and years – from automated telecalls, chatbots, and apps. These solutions circle very much around understating your customer, ample data, artificial intelligence, algorithms, and machine learning.”
This month the government launched a Coronavirus WhatsApp Chatbot and pledged investment into a new online platform that would help victims of domestic abuse who are unable to talk on the phone – which to date has been the primary method to access help of this nature.
Tom adds: “Whilst there will no doubt be some failures with some of these systems, one thing for sure is we will be trialling a variety of e-communication tools in a short period of time – and so the data and learning from this alone will resort in improved tech in this area. The Covid-19 outbreak has certainly highlighted how one of our age-old tools – communication – needs a shake-up.”