How to address the technology skills gap

The UK’s position as a global technology powerhouse could be in jeopardy due to the lack of new talent entering the industry.

It has been well documented, so will come as no surprise to most, that the sector is experiencing a chronic skills shortage, with employers finding it hard to match jobs to suitable candidates.

Research has shown that almost 80% of tech employers have indicated that a shortage of suitable candidates is their number one recruitment concern, with 75% having encountered a moderate or extreme skills shortfall.

There’s a real fear is that if this deficit deepens then the country’s coveted place at the fore of the global digital economy will be impacted.

The technology sector plays a vital part in the economy and in order to continue to realise its potential, it is critical that ambitious people with the right attitudes and attributes are found to become the next generation of tech pioneers.

It’s a sector that’s worth almost £184bn to the UK economy, according to the 2018 Tech Nation Report. This same report stated that figure was up from £170bn in 2016, and that the turnover of digital tech firms rose by 4.5% in the 2016-17 period, favouring well when compared to the 1.7 % UK GDP.

It’s a fast paced, dynamic environment that is changing and growing all the time, and skills are needed to develop emerging areas particularly fintech, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, biotechnology and eco tech systems.

The jobs out there are many and varied, covering software development, data analysis, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, cloud, AI and much more.

Right across the industry, essential jobs need to be filled to satisfy the global demand for digital. This demand will only get greater and failure to gain the right people for posts could result in other countries overtaking us and push ahead in these fields and gaining a competitive advantage.

We all need to shoulder increasing responsibilities to address the recruitment challenges, and can do this working in conjunction with schools, colleges and universities, as well as with agencies and governments.

Students across the UK, armed with their exam results, are currently considering their future studies and careers based on their grades. As an industry we need to showcase digital technology as being a rewarding sector to choose because of it offering incredible variety, scope and reward.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, students recently received A level results, just a few weeks after their counterparts in Scotland received certificates for their Higher and Advanced Higher grades.

Higher education won’t suit all school leavers and now is a good chance to source individuals that have achieved great results in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths – the so-called STEM subjects – by offering bespoke opportunities.

It’s one solution to the problem that the industry can itself offer up, by opening up avenues into the industry through using training schemes and apprenticeships.

As a small-to-medium enterprise (SME), based in a rural part of Scotland, Clark Integrated Technologies provides apprenticeships to school leavers in an effort to attract raw talent.

It might seems that one company sourcing new blood through the apprenticeship route is just a drop in the ocean towards addressing a nationwide skills shortage.

However, we have developed excellent links with schools and training providers as a result, and that will stand us in good stead for the future. In addition we are equipping young people with relevant skills for the jobs of today and tomorrow. We hope our young employees will stay with us, but by giving them a first class grounding in sought-after technology skills, we appreciate that there are many other rival opportunities open to them.

So far though, this approach has had the right outcomes for Clark IT, as several of our apprentices have progressed into other positions within our company and are making a valuable input to our operation.

It’s not just about getting young people into the industry – all untapped pools need to be looked at. Nowadays the concept of a job for life has almost become a thing of the past and people are changing pathways more often. These are employees that have workplace experience and they can retrain to gain the requisite skills for careers in technology. It ticks the box for lifelong learning too.

The UK Government’s Technology Innovation Strategy sets the foundation for innovation through emerging technologies, in relation to digital, data and technology.

The Scottish Government’s cyber resilience strategy supports developing the ability to be able to prepare for, respond to and recover from cyberattacks, so positioning Scotland towards greater cyber resilience.

There’s no quick fix solution to digitalisation’s skills shortage but the big picture is about having a shared responsibility, and using joined up thinking, to ensure future ambitions are met and advances continue to be made.

That way we can continue to find the innovative leaders and have the right technological culture for the future.

However, more effort needs to be taken to achieve that aim, otherwise growing and developing expertise within in the globally competitive disciplines could be a real struggle – and UK technology firms could lag behind without having the right expertise.

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