Amazon’s decision to expand with a new 60,000 sq ft development centre near Cambridge rail station with capacity for 400 tech staff is set to trigger a survival of the fittest scenario in the UK science & technology hotspot.
Young Cambridge hi-tech and biotech companies trying to scale in Cambridge and globally are already having to rein in their expansion strategies because they cannot find enough talent to meet unprecedented demand.
A record number of jobs are being advertised by online games companies, technology design consultancies, life science businesses and a rapidly expanding cluster of machine learning and Artificial Intelligence ventures.
Giants such as Apple, Amazon and AstraZeneca, with massive war chests to underpin global growth, are in the box seat in this scrap for top talent. The end game of the increasing internationalisation of the Cambridge cluster could turn into a technology triage with smaller players being forced to merge, scale back or even go the wall.
A paucity of affordable housing is also hampering young companies’ hiring plans; a number have told Business Weekly that either they cannot compete on salary and remuneration packages or, when they do find good people they cannot afford to live in the city.
Drones and speech technology pioneer Amazon is underpinning its growth strategy with a far-sighted recruitment blueprint. The company runs a STEM Ambassadors programme for students in the area, provides local school children tours of its Prime Air lab, has already held a ‘Design A Drone’ competition and funds the Amazon Women in Innovation Bursary programme helping underprivileged women into study for innovation-focused careers.
The new Amazon development building at One The Square in the CB1 business district will have capacity for over 400 highly-skilled employees including machine learning scientists, knowledge engineers, data scientists, mathematical modellers, speech scientists and software engineers.
Teams of experts working on devices such as Kindle, Fire tablet, Fire TV Stick, Echo, Echo Dot and the new Echo Look, as well as Alexa, will move to the new larger site this autumn. Amazon is currently recruiting extensively in Cambridge as part of its expansion plans in the city.
Once the new site opens, the current development centre building at Castle Hill will be used primarily for research and development for Prime Air, a delivery system from Amazon designed to safely get parcels to customers in 30 minutes or less using unmanned aerial vehicles, also called drones.
“We are constantly inventing on behalf of our customers, and our development centres in Cambridge, Edinburgh and London play a major role in Amazon’s global innovation story,” said Doug Gurr, UK Country Manager, Amazon.
“By the end of this year, we will have more than 1,500 innovation related roles here in Britain, working on everything from machine learning and drone technology to streaming video technology and Amazon Web Services.”
The company has invested £6.4 billion across the UK since 2010 and this year has pledged to create 5,000 new permanent roles across the country, bringing its full time workforce to 24,000.
The company also announced earlier this year an apprenticeship programme offering hundreds of opportunities in engineering, logistics and warehousing roles in fulfilment centres across the country, as well as Amazon Web Services re:Start, a free training and job placement programme for the UK to educate 1,000 young adults as well as military veterans, reservists, and their spouses, on the latest software development and cloud computing technologies.
Beleaguered by Brexit wranglings which could see the UK put a clamp on overseas talent taking up some of the vacancies in Cambridge, the Government understandably stressed the upside.
Minister of State for Digital and Culture Matt Hancock said: “This is fantastic news – Amazon’s increased investment in developing cutting-edge technology in Cambridge is another vote of confidence in the UK as a world-leading centre of invention and innovation.”
Business Weekly CEO, Tony Quested commented: “On the face of it, of course it is fantastic news that Amazon has hand-picked Cambridge for this expansion; it is what Cambridge entrepreneurs and funders have for years been fighting for.
“But there has to be synergistic and simultaneous investment in the infrastructure and the Government has failed to identify the long-term challenge and respond either quickly enough or with sufficient resources. The grim reality is that growing Cambridge S & T companies collectively cannot find enough talent, certainly locally.
“If they seek it from elsewhere in the UK there is the problem of relocation and affordable housing. That problem would be the same if they are allowed to bring in talent from overseas – but even that is in the balance under Brexit.
“Far sighted companies in science & technology could form a co-operative where their IP is non-competing and job share; companies in Cambridge and London can leverage the improved rail services for commuting workers between the cities.
“Air shuttles from a helipad on the Science Park could work for Cambridge just as they have for Aberdeen in transporting oilrig workers to and fro. Its time Cambridge started putting its much vaunted brainpower to better use and for the Government to put its hands in its pocket and back a key spoke of the economy which they purport to cherish so much. Sometime soon would be nice before the broader Cambridge business district implodes.”