Skills shortage forcing digital firms to grow outside Island

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The revelation from the boss of Digital Jersey comes at a time when the government is reviewing life-long education and skills as the needs of the economy changes.

Tony Moretta said that extensive research carried out by the body which supported the digital sector in Jersey showed companies struggle when they begin to grow.

He said: ‘Without exception, all employers interviewed strongly emphasised the difficulties faced in recruiting staff. These recruitment pressures were attributed to a strong tendency for digital businesses to expand abroad or to relocate once scaled to about 20 staff.’

He cited the example of one unnamed company which told him: ‘We wanted to recruit and advertised simultaneously in Jersey and Sussex for someone with five-plus years’ experience. In Jersey, we had one applicant in six weeks and he had no relevant skills. In Sussex, we had 25 applicants and I could pretty much have recruited any of them. We will open an office there at some point.’

Mr Moretta says that this issue could hold back the growth of Jersey’s digital economy.

‘This trend directly impacts upon Jersey’s potential to diversify its economy and develop a strong digital sector. There is a large gap in the qualification levels of the workforce, with a high proportion who need upskilling to prepare them for the impact of technology on the labour market. This can partly be attributed to the Island’s low graduate retention rate, with just 54 per cent of local graduates working in Jersey eight years on from graduation and the limited higher-education opportunities on-island.’

Assistant Education Minister Jeremy Maçon is leading the government’s efforts to come up with a new skills strategy.

Deputy Maçon said: ‘Diversifying our economy is very important for high-wage businesses, so obviously to hear chunks of businesses are leaving the Island isn’t a good thing. We know that within our digital curriculum we’re looking to do more. Highlands is looking to put on more courses and trying to work with industry to try and get a balance.’

But he urged companies to play their part in bridging the skills gap.

‘Businesses do have a duty to train their staff as well. It’s not just the public sector’s duty to churn out individuals who are appropriate for each industry. Even in the digital sector there are different strands so, for example, big data is not the same as web design. To churn someone out who will have the skills to go to every section of the digital economy when it is varied is obviously going to be a challenge.

‘There has to be a balance, but the strategic point is we want Jersey to diversify. It’s something we are working with Digital Jersey on to try to improve the curriculum at Highlands to support the sector.’

Mr Moretta warned that Jersey was at the bottom end of a league table of tech hubs in the British Isles when it came to people in the workforce with university qualifications.

He said: ‘Only 20 per cent have degree or above qualifications. When compared against Britain’s top 20 biggest tech hubs, only Birmingham has relatively fewer degree-level graduates. Compared to UK cities more widely, on this measure, Jersey is in the bottom 30 per cent, marginally ahead of Preston and below the likes of Swansea and Dundee.’

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