Lee Hills, chief executive officer of Solutions Hub, a professional services firm advising gambling and cryptocurrency businesses, opened up an interesting debate recently when he posed the question: ‘Are we leaving behind some valuable parts of the workforce as we move forward in technology, regulation and skills?’
Lee, who is also a board member of Digital Isle of Man, recorded a video for the agency’s online newsletter. In it he said: ‘We’ve done incredibly well as an island to have economic growth year on year...and we need to continue to do that.
‘The term blockchain or crypto encompasses an incredibly broad sector but there are quite a few opportunities within that space that the Isle of Man is very well positioned to capitalise on, both in terms of the quality of our regulation and quality of an openness of our regulators, and also of the skill sets that we have in the island.
‘Unfortunately whether it be technology, whether it be regulation, whether it be certain skills, a lot of quality parts of the workforce might be left behind.’
I went to see Lee, to ask him about this.
‘That was picked up quite heavily, perhaps because I was the only one who spoke about it,’ he says.
The point he was making is that moving to a career in a sector as new, and continually evolving, as blockchain is a daunting prospect. It takes, not just training, but confidence, even a leap of faith.
It’s something Lee knows a bit about. He turned his back on a career in corporate services to set up Solutions Hub.
He says with a wry smile: ‘I spent more than a decade advising people how to set up businesses and operate them so I just felt it was time I had to do it for myself to prove that I can do it as well.’
Solutions Hub was incorporated on June 23, 2016, the day of the Brexit vote. Lee had done some work in gaming and for crypto exchanges for his previous employer and decided that this was an area in which he could find a profitable niche.
He recalls: ‘I had a phone call from a decentralised lottery project which nobody had got a licence for before so I took up the challenge.’
It was a challenge that ended up with Lee pioneering the world’s first blockchain betting licence.
He says: ‘It was very interesting and it carved out a specialism in that area, raising awareness around its funding model which was something called an ICO (an Initial Coin Offering).
‘So we started looking at how we use the Isle of Man, the Designated Business Act and the legal structure we have here, to do Initial Coin Offerings and that was quite a big success story for us as well.’
Lee was joined at the company by Nick Wright, a former Gaming Supervision inspector.
Lee goes on: ‘We started to expand from there really. What we’ve done since we started is look for new and more interesting things to work on and things that people haven’t done before, to and create new solutions for things and, by virtue of going down that path first, create those paths for others.
‘That’s been very successful we’ve grown quite a lot. We’re a reasonable size team now and as part of that, doing a bunch of innovative things within the blockchain and cryptocurrency space, we’ve obviously seen some unique models and other things come along.’
Solutions Hub has also been shortlisted in three categories at the forthcoming EGR B2B Awards.
Despite all this Lee says he still sees a certain ‘concern’ in people when he is recruiting, partly because the blockchain sector is new to them and also because so many of the companies in the sector, like his own, are also comparatively new.
He says: ‘In blockchain there’s such a need for, not job-specific training, but sector-specific training: what is it, why do they exist, how do they make money, what are the opportunities - lots of questions to be answered.’
The whole concept of cryptocurrency is something that many people find it hard to get their head around.
Lee says: ‘Generally, when Bitcoin is very high, you get questions from everyone. So whether it be my barber, a friend who runs a plastering company, everyone I know within the last 12 months has asked me whether they should buy a Bitcoin or not.
‘It’s usually from an investment perspective but then there are other people who are interested in what the Isle of Man is doing in this space, who they are employing and what they are employing for but, without knowing the fundamentals [about the sector], it’s difficult to make that decision and say: “Do you know what, I’m going to switch industries and I’m going to do something new”.
‘So to me it’s a question of some sector specific skills but it’s a lot more about education just around the technology: what companies are doing; how they’re doing it, and what interesting things are going on.’
And he adds: ‘It’s not always about finding somebody where their CV says that they’ve done ‘x’ for a number of years within the relevant industry.
‘It might be finding the right people who have a good attitude and have a skillset that might be useful to that business.
‘Just because they’re blockchain doesn’t mean that every individual employed by that company is going to be a specialist developer. It’s a question of getting people comfortable with the new industries, giving them a new understanding of them, how they work and a bit of confidence in them.
‘People are better than they realise, I think that one thing we need to learn to do more in general is be more positive –I wouldn’t say as an island that we’re negative but we’re reserved and we are patient and calm and a lot of very good characteristics, but we can afford ourselves a little bit of positivity as well.
I think we can say: “Do you know what – I think we can do this and we can do that”, and we can take a few risks and try and benefit ourselves and our families and the people around us.’
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