TECH firms in Dorset and the wider region are predicting a strong year of growth.

The annual Tech South West survey found that nearly 65 per cent of technology businesses in the region expected their workforce to increase in 2020.

Positivity was rising, with nearly 70 per cent expecting to fare better this year than last. A year ago, only 50 per cent expected a better year than in 2018.

However, 88 per cent of respondents to the survey were finding it hard to recruit the talent they needed to maximise growth.

Anthony Story, on the Tech South West steering group and director of Silicon South in Dorset, said: “We are delighted that Bournemouth and Dorset companies have contributed to the study. Bournemouth has already been identified as one of the fastest growing tech start-up economies in the UK.

“Like other parts of the South West, it shares in that demand for top quality talent. Happily this is fuelled by some optimism, both in general growth, but also a strong belief in the value of new innovations being introduced into a range of diverse markets.”

Availability of talent outstripped economic conditions as the biggest barrier to growth for the first time – by 36 per cent to 26 per cent. Lack of home grown talent was seen as the biggest reason for the challenge.

Toby Parkins, chair of Tech South West, said: “Technology remains the fastest growing sector in the region and it’s encouraging to see our members more positive than ever before.

“The diversity of specialisms, be that healthtech, marine tech or agritech, robotics, software development or artificial intelligence, ensures a high level of robustness within the sector which is vital for ongoing growth in relation to wider economic conditions. But it also means we need great people including a strong mix of specialists. The more we can work with our universities, colleges and schools to ensure the talent pipeline is delivering, the more we can recruit locally and ensure the region’s tech sector continues to thrive.”

Companies said the top “soft skills” for success were communication, creativity and the ability to collaborate or work well in a team.

The top three technical skills were coding, data management and software development.

Some of the main skills lacking in tech businesses were leadership, communication and experience of work.

Paul Coles, English regions director for BT – which was a supporting partner in the recent Tech South West Awards – said: “In general, tech businesses are confident about the future, but the big challenge is access to the right skills. It is clear that our focus now should be collectively solving the skills gap. It’s the key to greater productivity and future prosperity. At a very human level tech is going to be critical to solving some of our greatest societal challenges, so we must do all we can to nurture and support the right skills mix.”