A ‘war’ over talent?

At a debate at the launch of the International Business Festival, panellists were asked to peer into the future to assess the challenges and opportunities the coming year would present.
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BUSINESSES face a “war for talent” as they head into a post-Brexit future, according to the head of the UK’s innovation agency.

Those who are highly skilled at using data will be among the most in-demand workers, Dr Ruth McKernan told a panel discussion on The World in 2018.

“The future is going to be really interdisciplinary,” she said, adding that alliances between those from business and research backgrounds could lead to exciting developments.

McKernan, chief executive of the government’s Innovate UK agency, has a CV boasting 25 years of research and commercial experience in the pharmaceutical industry. She was speaking at a panel event to mark the launch of the 2018 International Business Festival.

Alongside her was Fiona Marston, who has spent a similar length of time in healthcare and biotechnology and currently heads up Cheshire-based vaccine developer Absynth Biologics. She said it would be crucial to encourage as many people as possible into science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

“In my spare time, I do as much as I can to support this in school,” said Marston.

The Duke of Cambridge speaks at the launch of the International Business Festival
READ: How the Duke of Cambridge helped launch the 2018 International Business Festival

“It’s about supporting and developing that talent pool… and I have to mention women in science. At my level there are very few women, whether that’s in industry or academia.”

McKernan agreed, saying this manifested itself in only one in every seven funding applications to Innovate UK being submitted by a woman. In an attempt to address the imbalance, the agency had recruited Getty Images for a photography exhibition of female role models. Consequently the proportion of applications from women had risen to 20% in the space of a year, she added.

Accessing talent from the most diverse pool possible would be crucial to future prosperity, the panel agreed. Robert Hannah, of professional services giant Grant Thornton, said the UK must tap into its regions.

“I feel passionate about great business happening everywhere and I’m talking about quality of opportunity,” he said. “Looking at cities like Glasgow, Liverpool and Newcastle, these were built on trade, talent and innovation and they attract talent from all over the world.”

The panel discusses Brexit, talent and more during the debate on The World in 2018 at the International Business Festival launch at London's Lancaster House
International Business Festival creative director Jude Kelly chaired the debate at London's Lancaster House

Jonathan Branton, a partner and competition specialist for DWF law, said the business world would continue to face a challenge to change public perception that it didn’t have society’s broader interests at heart.

“There’s much more of a social agenda coming into business,” he said. “There’s a lot further to go to rebuild trust in how business works… how it remunerates itself and its staff.”

But HSBC regional corporate director David Beaty said that for all the challenges the coming year might bring, there were also great opportunities for SMEs.

“What we are noticing is that some clients are taking Brexit as a catalyst to think differently, to think outside the EU,” he said, pointing to clients including a Welsh yoghurt maker exporting to the UAE and Preston-based chocolatier that had broken into the US market.

That’s where the International Business Festival could help, according to director Ian McCarthy. He pointed to figures suggesting that 90% of global economic growth will happen outside the EU, adding: “The Festival is a massive international business networking opportunity.”

He said the event at Exhibition Centre Liverpool next June, featuring nine days themed around different sectors with high-growth potential, would offer components to reflect the breadth of challenges faced by businesses. As well as inspirational speakers, practical business support and invaluable networking opportunities, exhibitors in the international marketplace would have the chance to sell their products, he said.

“They will have a practical showcase at the Festival to put their offer in front of international businesses,” he added.

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Produced by the 2018 International Business Festival, in partnership with Wordscapes.