I’ve been reading Edward Glaeser’s book “The Triumph of the City” recently. One of his arguments is that the basis of sustainable city economies is the presence of clusters of small, entrepreneurial businesses that constantly co-create new commercial value from technological innovations.

Alan Penn, the Dean of the Bartlett Institute for the Built Environment, made similar comments to me recently. Interestingly, both Alan and Edward Glaesar identified Birmingham, my hometown, as an example of a city with such an innovative, marketplace economy, along with London. They also both identified Manchester as a counter-example of a city overly dependent on commoditised industries and external investment.

Cities are fundamentally important to the UK economy; more than 90% of the UK population lives in urban areas. But many – or perhaps most – UK cities are not well placed to support innovative, marketplace-based, high-technology economies (see my recent post on this topic). For example, e-Skills UK report that less than 20% of people hired into information technology positions in the UK acquired their skills in the education system; and I agree strongly with Seth Godin’s views as expressed by the “Stop Stealing Dreams” manifesto that we need to question and change the fundamental objectives around which our education system is designed.

To create and / or sustain economies capable of organic innovation and growth, cities need a particular mixture of skills: entrepreneurial skills; commercial skills; operational skills; technology skills; and creative skills. The blunt truth is that our education system isn’t structured to deliver those skills to city economies with this objective.

Whilst the opinions I’ve expressed here are personal, I’ll shortly be launching a project at work for my employer IBM to look at the challenges in this space. IBM’s business interest is our need to continue hiring smart, skilled people in the UK; the interest of IBM’s technical community as individuals to commit their time to the project additionally involves personal passion for technology and education.

I’m enormously aware that I’m not the first person to whom these thoughts have occurred; and I know that I and my colleagues in IBM don’t have all the answers.

So if this topic interests you and you’d like to share your insight with the project I’m going to run this year, please let me know. I’d very much appreciate hearing from you.