Kickstarting the tech talent shortage

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Covid-19 set in motion what has been referred to as ‘The Great Resignation’ with people leaving jobs in record numbers, or “Quiet Quitting” where people stop going the extra mile, to focus on other aspects of life. In addition to this, we are now experiencing a talent shortage that has reached a 16-year high. 

In the tech industry, the impact of this talent shortage is widespread. Quite simply, there aren’t enough skilled workers to fill the roles available, with BBC News reporting that 2021 saw more than 2 million UK vacancies in tech alone. This is not only detrimental for current businesses that are struggling to fill roles, but also presents a real issue for the growth of the UK tech economy and the economy as a whole. 

Something must be done, and while government schemes such as ‘Kickstart’ have attempted to bridge the gap following Covid lockdowns, these initiatives alone won’t fully solve the problem. It requires a unified response. Businesses should consider changing their position on hiring, so they can attract and retain the young talent the sector is missing. Government schemes require work to ensure they offer flexibility to both companies and applicants, and digital skills training needs to take centre stage – particularly as there will be further demand for these skills in the wake of growing tech demand across AI, automation and cyber.

Wireless experience, more opportunities

For the required skill reserves within the tech industry to begin to be replenished, businesses need to take a different approach to filling the roles available. Job specifications often ask for a high level of experience from the applicant, limiting the number of people that will think they are suitable. Data from the Adzuna labour market shows demand for no experience or junior level roles is shrinking, while the number of senior roles continues to grow – accounting for 77% of tech jobs available in 2021.

This will continue to reduce the talent pool within the sector, as the lack of no-experience, junior and intermediate positions will deter skilled but inexperienced individuals from entering the industry and building their career knowledge.

Organisations need to acknowledge the situation and begin to reassess the way in which they hire new staff. Consider hiring internally and promoting existing team members, then filling the roles they were previously in with apprenticeships and young people at the beginning of their tech journeys. By implementing this strategy in our own company, we’ve not only opened more roles to young talent entering the sector, but we’ve also seen an improvement in the job satisfaction of existing staff members, as more opportunities will be made available for them to progress. 

Attracting young talent to the sector

As well as opening more positions for those without experience, we also need to think about how we make the industry more appealing to young people. Research from Finsbury Glover Hering has shown that the interest is there, with 66% of those among younger millennials and Gen Z show interest in the sector, however nearly half of those (48%) believe that without having studied the right subjects, it is already too late for them to enter a tech career.

We need to break down these perceptions, as they inhibit the young people needed in the industry from looking into the potential careers available to them. One way of doing this, in which Red Helix has found success, is to broaden the opportunities available. Instead of hiring for niche roles, a range of opportunities and careers can be presented from the beginning, giving new talent an understanding of the breadth of tech routes available so they can define their own interests and route, instead of staying on a predetermined development path.

These sentiments have been echoed by Guy Holman, a new starter at Red Helix, who joined during the government backed ‘Kickstart’ scheme:

“When joining Red Helix, I had an inclination that I wanted to work in tech but didn’t have a great deal of industry knowledge. Through my apprenticeship, I’ve been given the opportunity to work with several different departments which led me towards technical architecture and, in seeing my passion for working in this this area, Red Helix have introduced training to help me develop the skills required in this subsector,” comments Guy.

Government support to help the tech industry

Additional external support is also needed to prevent further damage to the UK tech economy. Government schemes such as the Kickstart scheme, which was brought about as a result of the pandemic, are a great way of supporting the industry and should be encouraged – but they also need to be refined. In our own experience, the Kickstart scheme brought us some incredible young staff members, who have already begun making an impact within our organisation. But the process of hiring them wasn’t plain sailing. It was, in certain parts, regimented, prolonging the time it took to bring on new starters. This could easily be adapted by simply allowing the applicants to be onboarded in the same manner as other members of staff. This would not only make these schemes more appealing to companies, but it would also give those joining a company a more realistic experience of workplace culture. When the Kickstart scheme ended this year, the government did not replace it. This seems somewhat short sighted if there is a drive to get more young people into the tech industry. The government needs to think about how to help companies support skills shortages in a way that’s easy to access and helps provide young people with options to trial different roles in the tech sector, whilst allowing companies to support these initiatives without the heavy burden of bureaucracy. Alongside these schemes, the sector would also greatly benefit from a change in education, with digital skills being taught at a younger age. Not all tech roles mean coding. This is something that needs to be factored into education programmes to help young people understand the wide range of career opportunities that this sector offers. Furthermore, making the industry more appealing to young people with diverse backgrounds is crucial if the UK is tap into the full potential of its future workforce.

Growing digitalisation has made these skills invaluable across numerous industries, not only tech, fuelling an ever-growing demand. The Department of Education’s plans to introduce new Digital Function Skills qualifications are welcomed, but to ensure that future generations have the skills required to join the workforce of an increasingly digitalised world, the UK curriculum should also be adapted to provide young people with higher levels of training in these areas.

A revitalised UK tech sector

By providing industry opportunities that require less experience, we can attract more new talent to the industry, which will allow us to replenish the skills that the tech sector is hungry for. Providing new starters and apprentices with a variety of career options from the beginning will encourage them to continue working in tech, allowing them to follow their own paths in the industry, based on their individual talents and interests. There is, however, only so much we can do without support. We need government schemes that allow flexibility, and a refocused curriculum that teaches young minds the digital skills they’ll need in order to fully buoy the industry – for now, and for the future.

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Marion Stewart

Chief Operations Officer at Red Helix

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