The War for Talent – an account of the Gatwick Diamond Economic Growth Forum 2016

IMG_6737At the 2016 Gatwick Diamond Economic Growth Forum delegates discussed how we can make our region more attractive to investors, and therefore create new, high quality, well paid jobs.

IMG_6753Emma Goodford (right) of Knight Frank led off by introducing The War for Talent – that in order to be attractive places for businesses to locate, our towns and cities will need to be great places to live, work and play, and to travel around. Employers need to be able to win the talent war against their competitors, by attracting the best people.

Digital battle

IMG_6813The Forum had a particular focus on the digital sector. Sam Garrity (left) of Rocketmill discussed the talent war by saying he was about to move his 40-employee business to Brighton, because he couldn’t attract and retain the right staff from his current base in Crawley.

“The people I’m recruiting want to change the World, so they need to be able to rub shoulders with other like-minded souls, and work with Universities who are trying to deliver for digital businesses”, he said.

IMG_6822Simon Pringle (right) of Red River Software, based in Horsham, agreed, saying he had been “resisting the temptation to go to the beach” for many years. However, Simon said he was trying to help a hub of digital expertise emerge in Horsham by changing his recruitment policies. “My current tech superstars have not necessarily been to University.  I’m working with colleges, and on a digital apprenticeship with the University of Chichester, to produce a talent pipeline”.

Techies are Creative too

Many discussed how tech skills were being pigeonholed early in young people’s lives. In the Q&A, one delegate commented on the “separation of Science Tech Engineering & Maths (STEM) subjects and creative ones at an early age”. Simon Pringle echoed this by saying we will need to concentrate much more on combining tech and creativity from age 12 or 13.

IMG_6817One place where this happens, albeit at a more advanced age, in Unversity of Sussex. Prof Diane Mynors (left) described their Creative Technology group to some approval from the audience. “It’s where Tech meets a human interface, and where the skills developed are much more oriented to people – such as collaboration, or group working – than they are to technology”.

Changing the stereotype of techies not being able to be creative, and creative people not doing tech, is one of the key challenges, and one where business and education must work together.

Wider Challenge

IMG_6771It is, of course, not the only challenge for the Gatwick Diamond. Delegates at the Forum also heard from Surinder Arora (right), founder and chairman of Arora Group, a key investor in the region, that as well as working on our talent pool, we need to make sure our infrastructure keeps pace with our economy.

There has been investment in both physical infrastructure – road and rail – but more is needed, which is also the case in digital infrastructure, where a faster 4G roll out is key, according to Abhi Chacko, Head of IT at Gatwick Airport.

Surinder also said, in a message directed at the Government: “We need a decision about runway capacity, one way or the other, to give us some investment certainty”.

IMG_6737Stewart Wingate, CEO of Gatwick Airport (left, in conversation with event chair Daryl Gayler of RBS), would like that decision to go his way of course, but continues to invest in the existing airport, and to create opportunity for the surrounding economy.

He described a “massive capacity increase by rail”, which along with innovations like extending the Oyster Transport for London payment network out to the Airport, is helping passenger numbers climb, and more routes open to more locations – including long haul.

“Since I last addressed this Forum, we have added many new destinations including New York and Los Angeles”, he said. This increase, driven by low-cost carriers like Norwegian, provides significant opportunities for employment  growth in the Gatwick Diamond.

IMG_6718Andy Rumfitt (right), of AECOM, had kicked the day off by describing the opportunities for growth that spring from being the centre of one of the South East’s key transport corridors –London to Brighton.

He showed what might come from a more strategic and coherent approach to managing the corridor’s connections might produce, saying: “A regional transport authority could make a real difference”, by transcending the local, and that: “More connected Governance down the corridor”, by which he meant local authorities working together, perhaps ultimately coming together in some sort of combined authority or devolved administration, could help produce significant economic growth.

Surinder Arora echoed that, saying: “The Gatwick Diamond could be like Manchester” – a growing, connected city region with a strong investment story and coherent government.  That, of course, is a sentence which contains both significant opportunity and serious challenge, but if the Gatwick Diamond is to continue to win on the increasingly competitive global stage, then we must rise to it.

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