At the recent 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.
Emma Goodford of Knight Frank led off by introducing The War for Talent – underlining 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.
The Forum had a particular focus on the digital sector. Sam Garrity of Rocketmill discussed the talent war, 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.
Simon Pringle of Red River Software, based in Horsham, 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.”
Prof Diane Mynors, from the University of Sussex, described their Creative Technology group, which met with 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.
Surinder Arora, founder and chairman of Arora Group, a key investor in the region, that, as well as working on our talent pool, argued that 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.”
Stewart Wingate, CEO of Gatwick Airport, 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.
“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.
Andy Rumfitt, 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.
The Gatwick Diamond Economic Growth Forum will reconvene in 2017 on June 8, and also on Oct 28, 2016, for the first in a series of town focussed debates, this one being Crawley. See www.gdegf.com for details.