The UK, and indeed the world, is facing a digital skills shortage, with demand far outstripping supply. Tech Nation’s 2018 report finding that 83% of the tech community in the UK think their biggest challenge is accessing talent, showing the true scale of the problem. So, if the UK is to remain a digital leader, it needs to address this skills gap, and fast.
In this Q&A, Dominic Harvey, director at CWJobs, expands on the problem and explores solutions enterprises can take.
What are the challenges for tech firms looking to recruit new talent and build their teams?
There is fierce competition among companies in securing the best entry-level talent in the industry. Tech hubs are growing, specialist roles are developing, and we are seeing a rise in automation, calling for increasingly more niche skillsets.
With not enough entry-level talent to go around to fill these specialist roles, we need to inspire young people to enter the sector and showcase the breadth of jobs available outside of typically assumed IT or coding jobs. A host of creative, progressive and exciting roles await the next generation of tech workers and we need to address this sooner rather than later, to ensure the UK’s tech industry can compete on a global stage.
How can tech companies combat talent churn and retention rates?
The tech sector is notorious for experiencing high staff turnover. Tech workers regularly switch jobs to climb the career ladder or have the chance to get their hands on the latest equipment, in turn taking their training and specialist skills with them. This can be seen as problematic for companies across the board, but the spreading out of great talent and important skills throughout the sector means an overall boost to the UK’s tech capability.
Bigger companies should also seriously consider tech apprenticeship schemes as a long-term solution to addressing skill shortages, with this presenting the opportunity to train young people in the sector and the company from the ground up.
So rather than viewing this trend as negative, businesses need to accept this is part of the industry and use it as an opportunity to equip the next generation of talent. I would encourage tech firms to focus, not just on investing in the latest equipment, but in creating a culture that sees employees leave on good terms, with the potential for them to return with an even greater skill set than when they left.
Why is upskilling and staff training important?
Upskilling and staff training are great short-term mechanisms for businesses to plug the skills gap from within. Training within the workplace helps individuals to handle real-time challenges, as on-the-job learning offers tech workers the opportunity to enhance their skills under the guidance of senior team members. This is a great way for tech companies to take on young talent, upon leaving school or university, as the focus is on a candidate’s potential and honing their skills on a day-to-day basis.
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How important is diversity when recruiting in the tech sector?
We need to inspire a more diverse workforce, particularly in attracting women who have typically shied away from the sector in the past.
Bringing in people from more diverse backgrounds, not only helps to meet demand but will strengthen the industry with different ideas and viewpoints. The tech industry is still male-dominated, which can isolate certain groups and lead to a decision that a career in technology is ’not for them.’ Encouraging more people from diverse backgrounds at an earlier age to get involved in tech is a key step, before their interest is lost forever.
What advice would you give to UK tech companies looking to plug the skills gap?
Looking at CWJobs’ data, we found a 7% increase in the number of tech job listings in 2018. While this highlights positive industry growth, the skills shortage will continue unless we encourage entry-level talent.
To start plugging this gap, I believe IT/technology needs to be a compulsory part of our national curriculum. The Government and the UK’s tech industry must work together to draft up-to-date policy at all levels of education which is tailored to the needs of employers. This should enable and encourage leaders in the education sector to place tech literacy at equal importance to reading and writing, beginning at primary school level.
On top of that, tech companies can further get involved by partnering with local schools to educate kids on the exciting careers in tech.
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