This week US-based cryptocurrency start-up Ripple, announced the launch of its University Blockchain Research Initiative (UBRI) by committing over $50m to 17 global universities in order to support and accelerate education and technical development around blockchain.
This significant move by one of the most widely talked about crypto firms will see Ripple form close collaborations with institutions and offer technical resources and expertise, in addition to funding. Projects being undertaken by universities as part of the programme include research by Princeton University into the global policy impact of blockchain and a blockchain research program being built at the University of Luxembourg. Other prestigious schools involved in the UBRI include the University of North Carolina, MIT, and the University of Pennsylvania.
While the UBRI is likely to focus predominantly on digital payments in the financial sector, Ripple’s main business interest, the initiative is just one example of many buoyant investment drives taking place all over the globe, which aim to nurture a new generation of blockchainers and help blockchain realize its massive potential.
Worldwide bragging rights
Although most of the major blockchain success stories to date undoubtedly come from Silicon Valley and some of the main tech hubs in Europe, China is also becoming increasingly active and ambitious at encouraging blockchain innovation. In April, a new Blockchain Industrial Park opened in Hangzhou, home of Alibaba, which is designed to act as an incubation centre for blockchain start-ups.
Concurrently, a fund of $1.6bn was made available to help support some of the country’s most promising blockchain projects. The Xiong’An Global Blockchain Innovation Fund is partially funded by the city government and will be managed by Li Xiaolai, a renowned blockchain investor and bitcoin tycoon.
On an international level, governments are extremely eager to be in the blockchain game, and venture capitalists are fully aware of the benefits which come with investing in this phenomenal growth industry. There is a lot of money being made available and a huge appetite to drive blockchain innovation across multiple industries, across multiple usage scenarios.
Plugging the skills gap
But there is a problem. As was the case with all the major tech booms of yesteryear — the Cloud being the most referred to predecessor — demand and hunger for innovation far outweigh supply.
A report by freelance employment website Upwork stated that blockchain technologists have become one of the most sought-after, hottest commodities on the job market, second only to those working in robotics. Meanwhile LinkedIn reported that last year there were 4,500 job openings posted containing the term “blockchain” in their description, a threefold increase on the previous year. But, unfortunately, many of these positions will not be filled. A TechCrunch article from earlier this year claimed that there are now 14 job openings for every single blockchain developer/engineer.
The demand for technical expertise in developing blockchain-based technologies is through the roof, yet in reality very few technology professionals possess the skills or knowledge required to satisfy this growth in demand.
If we want to address this global shortfall and challenge, the Ripple approach may be the best way forward. Investing in grassroots level education and training so that the next wave of graduates become blockchain-savvy is a sure-fire way of bringing blockchain supply closer to blockchain demand. And whether you work in law, accountancy, or sales, in industries as broad as healthcare, government, and publishing, the impact of these types of long term investments will be felt in years to come as the blockchain gathers pace and becomes an integral part of our everyday life.