Tech Skills Shortage: A Ticking Time Bomb?

By Ahsan Iqbal

The technology industry is one of the most dynamic in the UK and as a result, demand for IT professionals is sky rocketing. Whilst the technology market may be thriving, the industry is faced with a distinct sector-specific skills gap.

In fact, according to research undertaken by Robert Walters, over 70% of employers believe that they will face a shortage of technology professionals over the next year.

The emergence of new technologies, including Artificial Intelligence (AI) and self-service Business Intelligence (BI), is no doubt to blame for the recruitment surge in the IT sector.  

National factors such as an ageing workforce as well as the lasting effects of the recession have left a significant impression on the industry, exasperating an already candidate short market.

Shortages in the technology sector

Establishing a sustainable talent pipeline is an area of concern for companies who are looking to grow. While over 60% rate the overall quality of the candidate pool as adequate, almost a quarter (23%) state that they receive a low quality of applications.

Shortages are the most acute at mid-management level (55%), while 36% of employers struggle to secure junior technology specialists.

Not surprisingly the most significant skills shortages have been felt in the East of England (33%), and the Midlands (31%) – where tech hubs are starting to form and grow at a rapid pace. This is compared with a talent shortage of just 5% in the South East.  

Competing on a global scale

Candidates are increasingly looking for careers with global potential and, will opt for businesses with strong economic performance across multiple countries.

Shockingly only 11% of professionals believe that the UK technology industry is prepared to compete on a global scale, and over 55% believe the skills shortages will be impaired by Britain’s departure from the EU.

Globally the talent pool is strong and companies should continue to see seek out experienced developers from Eastern Europe.

Skills in demand

Cyber security professionals remain the most in demand within the technology sector. In fact, it is one of the only professions that has a zero unemployment rate globally.

The changing technology landscape also means newer, emerging skills are becoming paramount for organisations. For example in 2018 demand was high for specialists in business intelligence, data, analytics, security, development, architecture and digital.

Challenges for tech recruitment

For the technology industry, the most significant barriers to recruiting are centred around a lack of relevant skills, experience, and technical qualifications.

In a market saturated with employers, high-calibre candidates often receive multiple job offers - which in turn is driving up salary. These high salary expectations can be crippling for start-up tech firms and SMEs whose recruitment budgets cannot stretch to the market rate.

4 in 10 professionals highlight that they are unable to find a suitable company to work for – be it a company not offering enough education or training, not being in a suitable location to commute, or companies having a poor reputation in the market. Almost a third of tech professionals (32%) are unsatisfied with the work-life balance on offer with many roles, suggesting an urgent need for tech departments to become more agile and flexible with hours and workplace environment.

Creating a sustainable talent pipeline

Rather than focusing on recruiting specialist skillsets as a short-term ‘stop gap’, from a long-term perspective, employers should be looking for high-potential candidates with a strong core skillset, with the view to upskill them to in-demand specialisms.

Companies are realising that they need to be more open to transferrable skillsets, which go hand in hand with technical skills. Hiring managers should look beyond the job description and industry-specific skills and instead assess a candidates other attributes. Does the candidate show ambition, will-to-learn, and bring along some insightful cross-sector knowledge.

In a candidate-drive, skill-short market companies will have to be more creative when trying to recruit and retain talent.

Ahsan Iqbal is the Director at Robert Walters


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