How can tech companies attract and retain talent to help overcome skills shortage?

In the past decade, the UK’s digital technology sector has grown exponentially. The government’s Tech Nation Report found that in 2014 1.6 million people were employed in the sector and 45 thousand jobs were advertised.

While it may appear that these tech hotspots are predominantly based within the capital, statistics suggest that this is not the case, as 62 per cent of the digital workforce is now based outside of London.

The growth of the UK tech industry is undoubtedly a force for good – it is helping to create jobs all across the country and has helped position the UK as a hub for innovation and creativity. In fact, recent figures suggest that at present the UK technology industry is worth around £145 billion and represents close to 10 per cent of UK GDP. However, to maintain its growth, this fast changing industry must recruit enough talent to fill the almost constant creation of new roles and unfortunately this is just not happening.

The latest Innovation Economy Report by the Silicon Valley Bank highlights that as many as 94 per cent of the UK’s fastest growing tech firms are finding the recruitment of talent needed for growth very challenging. Another report from Manchester Digital found that 1 in 4 businesses have had to outsource work outside of the EU as they couldn’t find the talent to fulfil it in the UK and that one quarter of businesses have turned down up to £50,000 worth of new business due to the lack of domestic resources.

These results are concerning and suggest that the sector is growing so fast it is struggling to maintain momentum. The fact of the matter is that we just do not have a wide enough talent pool to fill all the available positions. So what can be done to try to plug this skills gap?

Expanding the talent pool

Currently one of the major challenges that the sector faces is that there just aren’t enough people available with the necessary skills to succeed in an entry level role within the industry. One way to help overcome this is for the tech sector to work together with education providers to produce more inspirational role models and industry ambassadors, who can inspire more young people to pursue careers in these sectors.

In order to future-proof the sector, it is important that everything can be done to demonstrate to young graduates the vast number of opportunities available and the breadth of work on offer.

Develop skills from within

As well as working to inspire more graduates to pursue careers within the sector, it is also important to develop skills from within. Employers must work to ensure that once someone is hired, there is a training plan in place so they are able to get to grips with their role as quickly as possible.

One way to do this is for employers to offer staff the opportunity to complete courses which they can study online and from home. Smaller businesses that may not have the budget for these training courses should be proactive about taking new recruits along to industry events and seminars which offer practical advice from industry experts and give them the opportunity to mix with other professionals working in a similar field. Businesses should leverage all the opportunities that are available to help inspire, enrich and encourage their workforce.

Balance out the gender gap

As well as targeting young people and graduates, moving forward it is also crucial for the industry to begin to balance out the gender gap in the sector. A recent survey has found that in the North of England, men are still dominating the majority of technical roles within the industry, with as many as seven males for every three females filling these positions. These statistics ring true for the entire country, and so moving forward the sector needs to do more to break down old masculine stereotypes associated with the IT based industries. According to a recent study by Nominet, if the gender gap was closed and women filled the skills shortage in IT, the net benefit for the UK economy could be as much as £2.6 billion each year.

UK technology is a hugely creative, innovative and exciting industry that is constantly evolving. Those working within the industry already know this, however this needs to be communicated to young people, graduates and women who may have different views. Moving forward, the whole UK digital technology sector must collaborate to produce role models and inspiring ambassadors to encourage more people to consider pursuing careers within the sector.

The industry must also work together with the government and education providers to create exciting and relevant courses that provide students with a strong base of knowledge and an accurate depiction of what it is like to work within the digital technology industry.

Howard Jackson, Founder and Head of Education at HCSS Education

Image source: Shutterstock/Kirill Wright