The digital landscape of Wales entering 2016

Wales is a small, agile and dynamic country which is home to world-leading technology companies. However, if 2015 has shown us one thing, it is that our future also lies in our wealth of home-grown SMEs and start-up businesses.

This year began with the news that Tech City UK’s Tech Nation report had placed South Wales in the top five of the UK’s fastest growing digital clusters. The study firmly supported what the ESTnet had been reporting over recent years: the nature of the technology sector in Wales is changing.

The ESTnet represents the enabling technologies in Wales which cross a wide variety of business and industry sectors. Each year we are seeing our membership base steadily transform to include a large number of tech start-up businesses. That was made evident by the sheer number of entries for the Sir Michael Moritz Tech start-up category for this year’s ESTnet Awards. That trend has continued with entries for 2016 Awards.

Our network has a clear focus on promoting collaboration, which will be essential for these digital businesses to succeed. We are fortunate in South Wales to have direct access to some major global technology businesses that not only can provide guidance and mentoring, but also further opportunity for collaboration with these new businesses.

The enabling technologies these companies develop are pervasive. In addition to Welsh Government’s key priority sectors, Welsh innovations touch upon almost limitless markets including: healthcare, education and public services, in addition to the innovations in consumer technologies we all too often take for granted.

General Dynamics, SPTS, IQE plc and Sony are just a few examples of the world-leading multinational businesses that choose to locate themselves in South Wales. IQE, which was founded here in Wales, is the perfect example of how our anchor companies are utilising the enabling technologies they create to generate new opportunities in Wales.

November 2015 saw IQE officially launch the Compound Semiconductor Centre, a multimillion pound joint venture with Cardiff University’s Institute of Semiconductors. This partnership aims to create the world’s first compound semiconductor technology cluster here in Wales, with the potential to create 5,000 new Welsh jobs in the very near future.

However, if Wales is to truly capitalise on the successes of its established technology businesses and digital start-ups, it’s crucial that we also work to address the very real skills gap that exists here. Skill shortages remain a global challenge for the digital industry, and though it is by no means exclusive to Wales, we must continue to address it 2016. For this reason, the ESTnet has worked in partnership with the University of South Wales to develop and launch the Undergraduate Year in Industry Pilot Project. Supported by Welsh Government, it offers engineering and software undergraduates a unique, paid, year in industry placement designed by technology businesses in Wales.

With 70% of Wales’ information and communication technologies (ICT) industry expecting to grow over the next two years, it’s vital we create opportunities for students to discover the skills Welsh businesses require for their workforces. Next February (17th February 2016), the ESTnet Graduate Fair we will bring engineering, software, maths and business students from across Wales and the West of England to Cardiff to meet with our businesses.

Welsh Government has also acknowledged the need to ensure that our school curriculums embrace the digital age we now live in. The Digital Competence Framework will be available to all schools in Wales from September 2016. Built on the recommendations made in the independent review of ICT in Wales (published by Welsh Government in March 2015), it aims to embed “digital competence” across the curriculum in Wales.

Yet many young people still aren’t aware of the exciting and well-paid career opportunities available in this dynamic and growing sector, and it’s our aim to effect a positive change to benefit the industry in Wales. For our part, the ESTnet will continue to utilise its close working relationships with our stakeholder network, Welsh Government and Wales’ leading universities to better develop interventions and initiatives to address these issues.

Avril Lewis is the managing director of ESTnet, the network for Wales’ software and electronic sectors.

Image credit: Carmen Kynard