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What UK businesses can do to navigate the technology skills gap

We live in a world that is becoming increasingly digital, with organisations continuing to invest in technology – and requiring the skilled workforce to operate and work with it. But what if those people aren’t available? Darren Hedley, UK Managing Director at Insight, looks at the technology skills gap, how this is affecting UK organisations, and what companies could do to maximise their opportunities to retain and hire skilled tech workers.

The UK government recently outlined its plans to tackle the growing skills shortage in its “Levelling Up” Whitepaper.[1] The actions outlined detail that “200,000 more people in England need to successfully complete high-quality skills training on an annual basis”.[2] This may come as a surprise to some, but most UK businesses looking to hire talent will be very familiar with the skills shortage challenge. The problem is very real and is commonly referred to as the technology skills gap (or IT skills gap).

Recent global trends such as the Great Resignation (or Great Reshuffle) have seen millions of people leave and/or change jobs, seeking better opportunities and purpose in their career. Organisations are facing a growing challenge of keeping existing employees and hiring skilled new talent with the relevant skills. This is evident when looking at data of a CNBC survey, wherein 57% of technology executives reported that finding qualified employees is their number one priority – even beyond topics like supply chain or cybersecurity.[3] As can be witnessed from the first few months of the new year, this reshuffle in the job market and scarcity of skilled workers remains an ongoing theme in 2022.

At the same time, the lasting COVID-19 pandemic has increased the pressure on companies to be able to quickly pivot their organisation. Companies have had to learn to become more resilient and flexible to meet market, industry, economic and political changes. Building this resilience requires skilled workers to support this growth. So, we are looking at a unique situation: highly skilled technology employees are resigning and changing jobs, digitalisation and investment in technology is increasing, and organisations are having trouble finding skilled tech workers. IDC predicts that the IT/tech skills gap will result in monetary losses of $775 billion by 2022.[4] Where does this leave UK companies looking to hire and retain skilled technology talent today and in the future?

The fix is by no means simple. There are a finite number of these skilled individuals across our different industries. Investing in aspects such as reskilling, upskilling and training for existing employees is essential for companies to retain the talent within the organisation. In order to increase the recruitment of skilled workers, we are all being challenged to look at different and creative ways to attract and hire this new talent. At Insight we have experienced that fostering and building the right company culture and having the right employee wellbeing programmes is essential in convincing employees to join your organisation. But this is just the foundation, as the changing workplace and evolving worker expectations mean looking one step further. How can you best build that purpose-led culture, and how does your leadership team reflect the changing attitudes and expectations in the company structure, management styles, and compensation models?

Through the push in digitisation and remote working becoming the norm, most companies can hire from further afield. These digital nomads work from remote places, expanding the geography that talent can be hired from. With this becoming more standard practice, it is important to consider – beyond building a purpose-led culture – adapting your onboarding processes to remove any hurdles for new starters and building these connections and relationships to ensure all employees are welcome and integrated into the workplace culture.

Investing in company culture and hiring talent from further afield can help increase talent retention, but most companies are still facing a multitude of open positions that they cannot fill. A recent IDC Skills Infobrief report suggested “37% of the UK’s unemployed have an advanced education with relevant adjacent skillsets that make good candidates for quick and effective reskilling”.[5] Looking for a creative way to open up opportunities to this large pool of people, Insight recently launched a Skills Academy programme. The initiative is open to anyone with an interest in a career in tech, no prior knowledge of the sector is required to apply. The programme gives individuals the opportunity to work within different departments and train on the job for 24 months.[6] After the two years, participants are fully skilled, opening opportunities for potential career progression. Programmes such as these could offer companies innovative ways to attract new hires without previous tech experience and ensure the new employees are highly skilled for the role.

Alongside hiring and training individuals with no prior experience in tech, organisations can strengthen their own talent pool by offering flexible working and easy routes for individuals to return to work. Based on research findings, employment rates of mothers has fallen in the UK by 20% from 2019 to 2020.[7] Whether its new mothers looking to return to work from maternity leave, or mothers that left employment for caretaking purposes during the pandemic – building a work culture that is flexible enough to accommodate women who wish to re-join the workforce could boost an organisations talent pool significantly. Beyond this, inspiring girls (and boys) to be interested in technology – such as through STEM projects – can ensure the next generation of skilled tech talent is waiting in the wings. At Insight, we have dedicated STEM projects with schools in Europe, and I know many organisations in our industry engage in similar projects. While this may not be a direct investment, it is a future one to support and grow a diverse workforce in the technology industry.

The technology skills gap is forecast to continue and widen according to experts, while the need for qualified tech staff just seems to grow. Organisations must now, more than ever, invest in company culture, flexible working options, and employee wellbeing to retain skilled tech workers. But in order to attract new talent, we all need to become more creative. This is not an easy task and will most definitely require a trial-and-error approach. But it is worth the effort to collectively ensure the tech industry has a growing, diverse talent pool.

[1]https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1052706/Levelling_Up_WP_HRES.pdf

[2]https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1052706/Levelling_Up_WP_HRES.pdf

[3] https://www.cnbc.com/2021/10/29/labor-outranks-cyber-threats-as-biggest-concern-for-tech-companies-.html

[4] https://home.pearsonvue.com/About/News/2021/2021-VOC-report.aspx

[5] https://www.techuk.org/resource/nine-in-10-u-k-workers-must-learn-new-digital-skills-by-2030-according-to-new-salesforce-and-idc-research.html

[6] https://origin-www.insight.com/en_GB/careers/campaigns/skills-academy.html

[7] https://www.businessleader.co.uk/employment-rate-of-mothers-has-dropped-20-lower-than-fathers/

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