5 ways the Covid-19 pandemic has shaped the tech sector

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As the Prime Minister announces the roadmap out of lockdown, Brexit-plans roll on, and we await the Spring Budget from the Chancellor, we talk to Tom Chambers, Associate Director of Technology & Growth at Robert Walters, about the key developments in the UK’s tech sector.  

1. Rise in remote working

The rise of remote working was 2020’s ongoing theme – with the tech industry playing a key role in ensuring this transition was largely seamless. In fact, according to a Robert Walters poll at the beginning of the first lockdown 71% of professionals in the UK stated that their transition to remote working was immediate and seamless, with a further 19% stating that the transition happened within just a few days.

Remote working accelerated a trend away from large, centralised servers towards dispersed edge networks  — strategically dispersed networks of servers that collect and store data – meaning less of a journey to an end-user; better efficiency, speed, and latency; and increasing opportunities for those involved in the developing 5G ecosystem.

Typically one-step ahead of workplace trends, the number of vacancies for permanently remote-based professionals within tech rose from 1.1% in 2019 to 8.7% in 2020.

2. Increased levels of investment 

One of the shining lights of British industry, the technology sector has grown significantly over the last five years, as have levels of investment within it.

Despite the potentially destabilising effects of Brexit and the pandemic, Britain still remains the leading country in Europe in receipt of venture capital (VC) funding. In addition, more British tech scaleups – companies with annual growth of 20% in the past three years – broke through the £10m+ turnover mark, up 37% year-on-year. 

London in silo, a global impact-tech hub, attracted 3.1 times more funding into its purpose-driven tech companies compared to Europe as a whole – up 800% since 2015. Cambridge and Bristol, meanwhile, are forging their own paths. In the past year Bristol has received more than $500m in VC funding – ahead of Dublin, Copenhagen, Helsinki and Milan – making it the 15th ranked city in Europe.

Cambridge, for its part, is increasingly gaining a reputation as Britain’s Silicon Valley – with the biotech sector attracting much investment.

One year on – what has lockdown done for UK’s tech sector

  • 1 in 10 new hires are in tech
  • 9x increase in tech roles being fully remote permanently
  • 37% growth in UK tech scale-ups
  • VC funding to London tech-hub increased by 800% in 5 years
  • Cambridge & Bristol forging ahead with tech hub status
  • 8% growth in cyber-security hires as remote working & demand on e-commerce takes toll
  • 14% growth in senior-contract hires during pandemic

3. Increased security concerns 

Up until the emergence of the pandemic, digital security was gradually becoming more prominent in the minds of company bosses. Over a third of technology companies experienced at least one cybersecurity incident between 2019 and 2020, and more than 85% had a dedicated cybersecurity team or leader.

However, although the pandemic accelerated digitalisation across much of Britain during 2020, the urgency with which many firms rolled these solutions out was not matched with better, robust security protocols.

Instances of online fraud grew in lockstep as 47% of Britons worked remotely during the pandemic. There were 65,000 attempted cybersecurity attacks on SME’s daily during the pandemic, with around 4,500 of these being successful per day. According to Robert Walters research, data breaches cost a company £2.48m per instance – with 44% of customers stating that they’d never use a company again if their data was breached.

4. Created more jobs 

One in ten job roles advertised in the UK were tech-related during the pandemic – and by summer 2021 will reach 100,000 job vacancies per month.

The tech sector boasts an agile workforce that embraces new digital solutions before other sectors, and as a result showed its ability to adapt amid the global crisis.

Consequently, it fared well compared to many other labour markets and showed good recovery as 2020 ended – with hiring levels broadly matching monthly year-on-year levels.

Recruitment for developers and software engineers across Britain’s largest firms also experienced year-on-year growth, with particular demand for experts in solutions for mobile devices.

Vacancies for specialists in iOS and Android software development were up 71.4% and 60.3%, respectively, compared to 2019 — indicative of how attention spans are predominantly now focused on what people hold in their palms.

In a sign that the industry believes in the growth potential of the sector, money was not an object when recruiting during the pandemic with the number of senior contract and interim vacancies rising from 6.9% in 2019 to 13.6% in 2020 – with some CISO positions being able to command as much as £2,000 per day.

5. More Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is also likely to continue to grow both as a sector in IT and a department in businesses.  As it becomes more prevalent, VCs will identify this as a key area of investment.

An anticipated knock-on effect will be scaleups hiring AI and machine learning engineers in 2021 and — more generally across the industry.

Finally, demand for Python and SQL experts, critical for businesses interested in maintaining good and clean data (a prerequisite for them to benefit properly from the wide-ranging potential of artificial intelligence) will continue to rise. 

Click here to view all of the latest reports in the Robert Walters Technology Insight Series 

Chris Price
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