The UK IT talent shortage is set to worsen significantly as the baby boomer generation nears retirement and the number of younger workers with the right skills continues to shrink.
The number of people in the workforce aged 50 to state pension age will have risen by 3.7 million to 13.8 million by 2020, and the number of 16-49 fallen by 700,000 according to a recent report by Pensions Minister Ros Altmann.
As these older, often more senior workers reach state pension age, their departure widens the skills gap already holding back the tech sector: according to new research from specialist recruiter Randstad Technologies, massive industry disruption is imminent as nearly half (49%) of all tech workers plan to retire early, far more than the average of workers across the UK (35%). This could mean swathes of senior talent will leave the workforce en masse.
And those that choose not to retire early face increasing pressure to leave at state pension age. Technology specialists feel this tension more acutely than most, according to Randstad. The research found that more than four-fifths (83%) of tech employees report feeling this pressure, compared to 75% of typical workers across all sectors in the UK. In addition, 36% of employees in the IT sector say this pressure is ‘significant’, while only 14% say they don’t feel any pressure.
'The tech industry is facing an expansive experience exodus,' said Ruth Jacobs, Randstad Technologies managing director. 'The early retirement of the baby-boomers generation could lead to a serious skill shortage in the sector.'
'This generation helped build the technology sector in the 1980s with pioneers like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates leading the way. Companies need this experience if the sector is going to continue to expand. There’s already fierce fighting for talent as it is, and early retirements will make it even harder to find the right people for the right jobs.'
So the industry is trying to figure out how to make them stay in work longer, or suffer the consequences.
In order to improve the retention of older workers in the tech sector, says Randstad, employers need to allow their more senior staff to have flexible working hours to help them fit their career around potential pressures like caring for a loved ones and health issues. This was the most important factor for 43% of workers in the sector.
Crucially, these initiatives need to be better publicised to help change the perception of older tech workers.
'To avoid the impending tech talent shortage employers need to make sure that their company’s working hours fit with the demands placed more senior staff,' saidJacobs.
'Having the option to work around other responsibilities like caring for a loved one or treating any health issues would be a big benefit to older workers. As an increasing amount of work in the tech sector can now be done via the cloud, these changes should be easier to introduce. While some tech firms may already have some form of flexible working, it’s important to make sure older workers know these schemes are available.'
And in an industry which is constantly evolving, providing support to help older workers adapt to the latest developments is vital if employers want to maximise the benefit of their experience.
Another major change that could help persuade tech workers to stay in the sector was changing of role of older workers to become mentors to more junior staff, allowing them to share their experience. Younger employees could also see the benefits of having the guidance of older staff and their considerable experience.
Introducing retraining schemes so that older workers can learn to use the latest technology will also be important in persuading older staff to stay in the sector, with 34% saying it would be the best change employers could implement.
'Helping senior employees to learn the latest coding languages or understanding the newest piece of software will have significant benefits for the whole company,' said Jacobs. 'In a sector which is often unfairly thought of as ageist, encouraging older workers to stay in their jobs longer could even enhance the entire industry’s reputation.'