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Cornwall set to become “Mini Silicon Valley” as demand for AI and Machine learning roles increases

Dec Connolly Editor

Email business@thebusinessjournal.co.uk

Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly has the fastest growing tech sector in the South West, forecasted to grow 17.9% by 2026. With demand for AI Skills in the UK Labour Market having more than tripled over the last decade, the region is offering some of the most sought after AI and machine learning jobs in the UK, according to a recent report commissioned by CIoS Digital Skills Partnership.

A recent report, commissioned by CIoS Digital Skills Partnership. revealed four key tech sub-sectors in the county that demand digital skill sets including AI, machine learning, and Big Data – CreaTech, AgriTech, MarineTech and SpaceTech.

Goonhilly Earth Station is the UK’s leading commercial satellite and deep space communications specialist, with satellite dishes across the site that receive a phenomenal amount of data from space. Everything from forest monitoring to communications messages from space stations. 

From raw data to practical uses, the site at Goonhilly represents a value chain with many different steps, all requiring unique skill sets. Including manufacturing antenna components and ready-to-deploy ground stations to state-of-the-art data processing, storage, and AI solutions. Cornwall is the perfect place to catapult the UK Space scene onto the global playing field. The region gives us all of the elements required to create a successful UK Space sector.

Ian Jones, CEO, Goonhilly: “Once we have the data it needs to be processed and converted into useful information, using AI or other techniques to extract what’s needed. Beyond that we look to actually create applications so users can access the really useful data they need. Each time you go up the value chain, it widens, creating more career opportunities, often unique ones, for the local community. We’re on a peninsula, surrounded by the ocean with the ability to get into, and communicate, with space. It’s like living on our own little spaceship here. It’s also the sort of environment that makes our services exportable to the rest of the world. We exported mining over 200 years ago, we’re now exporting highly effective communications and that is the way forward.”

Using AI to work with space data sounds like a career reserved for rocket scientists but this is not the case, as Ian Jones explains: “Planet earth is a spaceship, we’re only ever five or six seconds from being in space at any one time. Looking after our planet and people is of utmost importance, and whether it’s securing our water, food and finances or helping us navigate the roads, it all happens in space. This boom in space data has opened areas of commerce and opportunities that require a really varied skills set and we need a pipeline of inquisitive, talented young engineers and scientists to become the next generation of trailblazers to meet the demand of this exciting sector.”

As one of the fastest growing subsectors and the second most populated UK region for SpaceTech, upskilling is critical to the county’s continued growth. According to The Space Skills Alliance who recently undertook a national space sector skills survey, 52% of the organisations are struggling with a software engineering skills gap. 38% of the organisations also reported an AI and Machine Learning skills gap. The report highlights the disconnect between the number of positions and the lack of candidates with the right skills to fill them.

Tanuvi Ethunandan, co-founder of Cornish startup Data Duopoly: “You no longer need to go to the big cities to find innovative tech companies. Cornwall is leading the way in technology development and moving away from just being a tourism economy. And with improving transport links and the growth of hybrid working, the tech sector will only become even stronger. I actually came from London and honestly had no idea what to expect when I moved to Cornwall. My view was very stereotypical, it was a great holiday place for me. I was going to the beach doing lots of paddle boarding and even trying my hand at surfing but had no idea there was this fantastic burgeoning, dare I say it, mini Silicon Valley developing.”

On a mission to revolutionise the visitor experience in any venue worldwide, Data Duopoly uses data and AI to connect places, faces and people through a gamified app and web analytics dashboard. The key to Data Duopoly’s success is the powerful data and insight venues gain, which allows them to build sustainable and long-term experience management solutions. It’s this kind of innovation which is helping to make the CIoS region more accessible and more appealing to potential employees.

Founded in 2015, Hertzian is leading the way in how artificial intelligence is being used to revolutionise social intelligence. Graduates of Falmouth University’s Launchpad programme, their dedication to building an AI platform that compiles and gathers customer opinions across online community channels has created some of the most sought-after AI and machine learning jobs in the region.  

Christopher Weavill, Chief Executive & Co-Founder, Hertzian: “One of the most underrated roles in this ecosystem is the data architect. This is someone who understands the infrastructure required, and the systems to process and maintain big data solutions. Because at the heart of it all, to make AI powerful you need to to create a structure where various systems can work together nicely. Once this working structure is in place, you can bring in the other key skills, like academics, software developers, data analysts and machine learning specialists to build all the parts.”     

Ian, Tanuvi and Christopher are all passionate about promoting careers in Cornwall, and are involved with a wide range of projects that engage with young people and encourage the next generation of data experts.

When we hire somebody, we do it with a complete understanding that we’re going to invest in them and their training. Once they’re fully trained, we then hire someone else and they train them up. We pride ourselves on having a culture that cultivates evergreen talent. We’re looking at creating an ‘Academy of AI’ which is effectively a Hertzian training programme for developers. When they join the team, we will teach them the technology we use and grow their skills. We’ll continue to take on apprentices, young adults and people looking for a new career so we can train them in the skills that we believe creates a successful AI business, but also the skills that will give them the best future.” Christopher adds.

It’s not only tech companies that require AI skills: the DSP’s report notes the top 10 most common tech openings are in high demand across a range of industries, such as Insurance and financial services. There’s also a growing need for AI and data skills in eCommerce and customer services. Watson Marlow and Cornish Lithium are both looking for data and AI skills in their recruitment drives.

Lightcast’s recent report also shows salaries for roles with AI skills pay up to £14,000 more than the equivalent roles without. As Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly lagging behind national average wages by 15%, the current push to create opportunities and upskill those on the lowest wages has never been more apt.

There’s a huge potential to boost Cornwall’s economy for the better – improving access, engagement and digital skills training for local candidates will play an integral role.