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Web 3: The Next Skills Crisis in the UK?

Web 3: The Next Skills Crisis in the UK?

If you’re active on tech Twitter and LinkedIn, you’ve probably seen terms like metaverse,
NFT, Web3, crypto, DApp, DAO, and DeFi appearing in your feed. These all refer to different
concepts and technologies, but one thing links them all together: blockchain.
In 2019, I was lucky enough to have lunch with Christophe Uzureau and David Furlonger,
the authors of a book called The Real Business of Blockchain: How Leaders Can Create
Value in a New Digital Age.

They shared several examples of ways that blockchain can create value for forward-thinking businesses. And it’s more common than you’d think. The football body UEFA, for example, has been using it to prevent ticket fraud since 2018.

I was a tech recruiter for 12 years, and that lunch got the recruiter in me thinking. If
blockchain represents so much value to businesses, then where are the people who will do
the work?
According to LinkedIn News, job postings containing works like ‘bitcoin’, ‘Ethereum’,
‘blockchain’ and ‘cryptocurrency’ grew 395% in the US between 2020 and 2021 alone. While
this is within the context of a growing demand for tech roles more generally — there was a
98% increase in tech listings during the same period — it’s clear that the need for these
roles is growing at a rate that vastly outpaces the rest of the industry.

Let’s look at some of the main roles that the increase in blockchain projects is creating:

Web3 BLOCKCHAIN DEVELOPER

According to Betterteam, blockchain developers are responsible for enabling secure digital
transactions by creating systems to record and store data in a way that prevents it from
being hacked or changed. They maintain client and server-side applications and develop
application features and interfaces. Most blockchain developers will come from a software
development background and will have advanced proficiency in languages such as C++,
Java or Python.

Web 3 SMART CONTRACT DEVELOPER

Smart contracts are programs that are stored on a blockchain and that run when certain
preset conditions are met. The emergence of smart contracts to automate the execution of
agreements is a huge business benefit that will come from blockchain in the near future.
Developers that can create smart contracts will therefore be highly in demand.
The main development language of blockchain smart contracts is Solidity.  Solidity was
developed by Gavin Wood to solve the unique problems of Ethereum. It is now the default
language of all Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM)-compatible chains. This means that
whether you are developing on Ethereum, Avalanche or Polygon, you will need to be
proficient in Solidity. Most smart contract developers will likely come from a C++
background.

FRONT END WEB DEVELOPER

While front end web development is certainly not a new skill — and is already in high
demand — it’s likely that this demand will experience a surge with the emergence of 3
blockchain solutions. The reason for this is that Javascript is a key language in Web3, when
used alongside tools like React and Node. This means that many Javascript developers will
look to expand their skillsets by learning things like Web3.js and Ethers.js to make
themselves even more employable.

BLOCKCHAIN SOLUTIONS ARCHITECT

Solutions architects (SAs) are common in large enterprises: I worked with many over my
time at large financial institutions.  At the moment, there doesn’t seem to be a huge demand
for blockchain solutions architects. However, I predict that we will see many traditional SAs
upskilling to be able to develop complex blockchain architectures.
In fact, the Blockchain Training Alliance has already started offering a certification in this
area: the Certified Blockchain Solution Architect (CBSA) course and exam.

DATA ANALYST

With NFT ERC721 or ERC1155 tokens, the value is held in the metadata. The NFT
developer platform OpenSea recently published its own metadata standards. As the use of
NFTs continues to grow, it’s likely that the demand for specialised data analysts will also
increase. At the moment, exactly what this role will look like is unclear, but the need to
ensure a high standard of data quality means it will definitely be required.

UX DESIGNER

Again, user experience (UX) is not a new skill. In fact, it’s very much in demand in the Web2
world we currently live in. But user experience is just as important in Web3 as in Web2 —
and creating a strong UX, whether that’s using a DApp or an NFT community, will be a key
competitive advantage.

UI DESIGNER

Similarly, UI design is not a new demand, but it is one that will be critical moving forward.
With the increase in blockchain technologies, the ability to create a great user interface will
mean that specialist UI designers are in high demand.

GRAPHIC DESIGNER

Currently, NFTs are often used for digital collectables, through projects like CryptoPunks and
Bored Ape Yacht Club. These allow people to purchase and collect digital artworks living on
the Ethereum blockchain. Of course, there is so much more to NFTs, as we’ll likely see in
the next few years. But in the meantime, there’s a huge demand for designers who can
create and mint NFT art.

COMMUNITY MANAGER

Most NFTs offer communities through platforms such as Discord and require community
managers to maintain them. I’ve recently been involved in hiring several community
managers, a role that can add huge value to an organisation. With the increase in NFTs,
we’ll also see increasing demand for the ability to engage an online community over the next
12 months. Most community managers come from a background in marketing, or even
straight from university.
 
 

WHERE TO FIND BLOCKCHAIN TALENT

We’ve covered the main roles that will be in demand as the use of blockchain technologies
increase. Let’s now take a look at where to find this talent. According to the Blockchain
Council, the top ten countries for blockchain talent are:
1. Japan
2. China
3. Lebanon
4. Switzerland
5. South Africa
6. United Kingdom
7. Singapore
8. Bahamas
9. United States
10. Estonia
From initial research, it looks like most specialists are either freelancers or working with
boutique consultancies. As we’ve covered, many of the roles that will be in high demand are
not Web3 specific. But those that do already exist are already in high demand, which will
only increase with Web3.

WEB3 TALENT IN THE UK

There have been some recent announcements showing that there are reasons to be positive
about the near future in the UK. For example, the University of Manchester has introduced a
course to teach smart contract development using Solidity. This will be invaluable in helping
to create more smart contract developers.
And in Scotland, we have seen the University of Glasgow create a £1.3m blockchain
research centre, which will be great at bringing more blockchain talent into the ecosystem.
Also, 25% of the top 50 UK universities have a blockchain society for students — including
Cambridge, Oxford, Leeds, Bristol and Aberdeen.

In conclusion

Are we facing a skills crisis due to the emergence of Web3? Yes and no. Many of the skills
required, such as UX and UI design, graphic design and community management already
exist. And, while permanent hiring is difficult for these skills due to the already high demand, there
are great freelancers on the market who can add a lot of value.
We will also see a lot of upskilling in roles such as software development and solutions
architecture, which will allow professionals to take advantage of the demand for Web3-
specific skills. This will especially be the case for freelancers, who are normally very forward-
thinking in developing in-demand skills ahead of the trend.
The biggest skills gap will be around blockchain and smart contract developers, where there
will be more demand than supply.

Aimee Mcpherson

Author Since: January 31, 2022