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

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 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.”

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.