Skills: UK nation of IoT marketers, not engineers warns critical report

Skills: UK nation of IoT marketers, not engineers warns critical report

The UK has hundreds of thousands of IoT professionals – just not the right ones, suggests a new employment report. Chris Middleton explains why the UK needs to take urgent action to rethink its workforce.

There are 28 qualified professionals for every Industry 4.0 post advertised in the UK, according to a new report.

The document finds that there are an average of 14,368 Industry 4.0 jobs advertised every year in the UK, and nearly 400,000 qualified professionals in total (399,719 people).

Over 150,000 of those professionals are either actively or passively searching for new work, it says, meaning that there is an average of 11 experienced people for every new job opportunity in the IoT and related areas.

The report has been produced by a new organisation called i-AMdigital, which describes itself as a “talent partner” for enterprises working with digital technologies such as IoT systems, robotics, AI, big data analytics, and 3D printing.

A nation of marketers

Delve into the granular detail, and the report reveals a fascinating – if not altogether positive – picture of the UK’s new technology sector.

Despite the prevalence of skilled and talented professionals in analytics, engineering, and IT systems – with degrees from universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, and London’s Imperial College and University College – the UK is overwhelmingly sales and marketing focused, it says.

Nearly one-third (31 percent) of the entire Industry 4.0 workforce is in business development and sales positions – in roles such as IIoT or big data sales managers – versus just five percent in research and development, across areas such as AI and robotics.

Over one-quarter of those sales professionals want to change jobs, it finds, while 31 percent of the UK’s researchers are actively looking for new opportunities too. The report implies that the marketers may find it much easier to do that than the researchers.

With recent findings that the UK spends too little on R&D – 1.4 percent or less of GDP – compared with countries such as the US, Japan, France and Germany, the figures are troubling. With Brexit on the horizon, the UK needs to at least double its R&D spend to compete on the world stage.

With its historic strengths in areas such as computer science, AI, and the Web, Internet of Business suggests that the UK should aim even higher than three percent of GDP.

At the recent Westminster eForum on AI policy, attended by figures from government, academia, and business, a senior civil servant told Internet of Business that the UK is now being “actively excluded” from European science and technology research programmes in which it has previously had a central role.

Too many unfilled jobs

So what of the rest of the UK’s Industry 4.0 workforce?

Nineteen percent work in engineering roles, such as data scientist or machine learning engineer, says the report, and a further 19 per cent in more traditional IT positions. In both cases, one-quarter of those professionals are looking for new opportunities, says the report.

The remaining seven percent of industry experts are consultants, according to i-AMdigital.

This employment breakdown reveals another big challenge for the UK’s IoT and Industry 4.0 sector: 37 percent of all the relevant jobs advertised in the UK are in traditional IT roles. That’s nearly twice the number that are in sales (20 percent) or specialist engineering (22 percent). Just four percent of advertised jobs are in marketing, and three percent in consulting.

In other words, the UK market is flooded with marketers and sales people when it really needs to be full of qualified IT workers who can fill tech positions.

There are seven active professionals for every sales job, adds the report, and also for every R&D post. However, the survey demonstrates that there are different explanations for this parity: there are far too many marketers and far too few research roles.

This reinforces both anecdotal employer evidence and the findings of several local jobs surveys: the UK has countless unfilled IT vacancies, even in supposed digital hotspots, such as Brighton or Manchester.

In a world of social platforms and surface noise, it seems that the UK is overly focused on selling things that it doesn’t know how to produce or run itself.

The report also finds a strong bias towards London and the South-East. Forty-three percent of Industry 4.0 jobs are in London, it says, versus just two percent apiece in other hotspots, such as Manchester, Birmingham, and Bristol, and just one percent in Edinburgh.

More, the report reveals that many Industry 4.0 professionals are working for a small number of major companies, such as Accenture, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Deloitte, PwC, KPMG, Boston Consulting Group, and EY. In short, the big consultancies and systems integrators are mopping up the UK’s talent – which is perhaps no surprise.

However, with so little investment being put into R&D nationally, that focus on working for big-ticket, overseas giants is likely to remain – despite the success of innovation zones and startup hubs, such as Tech City, Sensor City, and others.

Internet of Business says

In general terms, the UK’s track record in technology innovation in areas such as AI, computer science, and the World Wide Web has been impressive. And it’s good to know that the country’s IoT and Industry 4.0 market has 400,000 qualified and experienced workers: that’s a positive message. But in other respects, these findings ought to ring alarm bells in Whitehall and among employers. 

Here’s why. First, the government has refocused its industrial strategy on AI, robotics, and autonomous systems, with a new Office for AI and other welcome initiatives. This means that digital expertise is critical, and Whitehall is funding new PhD opportunities, and more. That’s good news.

However, it’s clear that – at present – the UK has the wrong workforce mix for an ambitious, independent future. The country urgently needs to refocus on R&D and on nurturing the hard skills and experience in the technology sector. Not just from the top down, but also from the ground up at local level.

At present, the UK has too few research positions for its experts, too many unfilled digital posts in its big towns and cities, and a job market full of marketers and sales people.

More, the UK is overly reliant on London and on a small number of big companies.

With reports that several banks are reconsidering their positions in London, post-Brexit, and news that Unilever – the UK’s third biggest company – is quitting the country for the Netherlands after almost a century, there is a risk that other major employers and IP owners may follow.

The facts are stark: if the big consultancies, IT giants, and systems integrators think about leaving too, then the UK will be in big trouble. And that’s not a message that will be easy for thousands of marketers to sell.

• i-AMdigital has produced similar reports on the US and European markets, which we will publish soon.

Read more: South Korea most automated nation on earth, says report. The UK? Going nowhere

Read more: IoT sends demand for mobile skills soaring, say recruitment experts

Read more: Inmarsat research: skills gap threatens IoT innovation in energy sector


 

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Chris Middleton
Chris Middleton is former editor of Internet of Business, and now a key contributor to the title. He specialises in robotics, AI, the IoT, blockchain, and technology strategy. He is also former editor of Computing, Computer Business Review, and Professional Outsourcing, among others, and is a contributing editor to Diginomica, Computing, and Hack & Craft News. Over the years, he has also written for Computer Weekly, The Guardian, The Times, PC World, I-CIO, V3, The Inquirer, and Blockchain News, among many others. He is an acknowledged robotics expert who has appeared on BBC TV and radio, ITN, and Talk Radio, and is probably the only tech journalist in the UK to own a number of humanoid robots, which he hires out to events, exhibitions, universities, and schools. Chris has also chaired conferences on robotics, AI, IoT investment, digital marketing, blockchain, and space technologies, and has spoken at numerous other events.
  • “The UK’s track record in innovation is second to none. ”

    What is the evidence for this claim, exactly? The UK lags other countries in patents per capita, for instance. Switzerland, South Korea and the USA are ahead of it. Hence, if we use patents as a proxy for innovation, it is false that the UK is ‘second to none’.

    This sort of meaningless bafflegab doesn’t make your claims look very convincing. It is marketing speak.