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Brexit: Among the job uncertainty, we still have a skills gap

(Image credit: Image Credit: D Smith / Flickr)

With Brexit still looming in the near future, and UK political alliances being mightily tested, a wave of fervent speculation remains about the impact to the United Kingdom jobs market. Various potential scenarios have been projected to show either dramatic change, with a drastic reduction in regional trade and people movement, or no change at all.

One recent study by the UK Trade Policy Observatory and the University of Sussex forecasts that even a soft Brexit could come at the expense of some 400,000 jobs around the country. It is difficult to predict the future when so much has yet to be decided, but the terms of any Brexit deal will ultimately determine the way in which jobs are affected in the UK.

Amidst the uncertainty around how leaving the EU will actually play out for us, a very real IT skills gap remains and urgently needs to be addressed. As well as not having the talent pool to fill current job roles, there is also a discrepancy permeating the tech sector between what employers expect from new hires and their employees and what workers actually bring to the role.

Looking past brexit

A 2018 CompTIA research report shows that 9 out of 10 employers participating in the study have witnessed the skills gap first-hand, and almost half of employers believe it is growing. Brexit further complicates things, with one-third of UK managers who participated in the Assessing the Skills Gap in the UK research fearing that Brexit will have a mostly negative effect on employment.

Still, nearly half (46 per cent) of respondents expect that Brexit will bring both positive and negative impacts. These are important considerations when looking ahead to the IT jobs landscape in a post-Brexit UK.

At present, almost all responding firms (89 per cent) feel that too many workers lack advanced skills, and a similar number (88 per cent) fear that graduates are not prepared for today’s jobs.

Somewhat paradoxically, they also feel there are not enough workers to fill available jobs. Until recently, IT hiring managers could expect to reach a broader talent pool by looking internationally, but with Brexit on the horizon, some worry that it will become more difficult to do so.

The IT industry has typically recruited from within the European Union due to the availability and freedom for economic migrants to work anywhere within the 28 nations. In a Brexit scenario with limited freedom of movement, it would be wise for government to consider allowing those with the skills we need into the country to avoid a negative impact to our overall talent pool.

Safeguarding against uncertainty

No matter what happens with Brexit, we know that IT employers in the UK want and need highly skilled employees in order to safeguard themselves against risk and change.

The Assessing the Skills Gap report shows that the top concern for UK employers around emerging technology is security and data privacy. As data breaches and malicious attacks grow increasingly sophisticated while the skills gap in cyber security shows no sign of improving, this concern will surely become more pronounced. Employers also voice strong concerns around how their teams are equipped to deal with the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and automation. While most organisations provide some degree of training and professional development for IT employees, regular upskilling and training must be an on-going part of an employee’s tenure with a company, perhaps more now than ever.

Looking closer to home

Today’s IT workers hold an industry advantage: they are able to be flexible with their location. Many jobs no longer require workers to be on site, and that can prove to be a valuable asset during challenging economic times.

If we look within the United Kingdom, we see that talent – and jobs – is no longer just congregated in major hubs like London and along the M4 corridor. Companies are recognising the need for a better work–life balance and look to open offices in more affordable locations for people to live in. This is spreading talent to new areas of the United Kingdom, from the southwest to the northern powerhouse cities. Having fast and robust broadband connections, as realised by the implementation of 5G and IoT, will only accelerate the diversification of these hubs.

Any companies worried about a Brexit-related skills gap can rest assured that there is a deep pool of talent within the country, it is just ensuring the business is accessible for these people. It can be helpful to focus on making existing jobs more attractive to employees living in rural areas of the UK and to those who require flexible working arrangements such as remote working. The flexibility that the IT sector can offer employees is one of our greatest strengths.

IT will always need skilled workers

Regardless of where the United Kingdom lands following Brexit, we can say two things for certain:

  • The digital skills gap is one of the most pressing issues facing our industry today.
  • IT jobs will continue to play a vital and growing role in the United Kingdom’s workforce and economy, and perhaps more so in a post-Brexit scenario.

It is safe to say that employers will always prioritise a future-proof set of skills and a well-trained IT workforce, and Brexit will not change that. We must consider the future of the IT sector in the UK in spite of the political turmoil of Brexit, and recognise that training will always be vital to the jobs landscape. And waiting to see how Brexit plays out to develop the talent we already have will not benefit anyone.

If there is one thing that IT employees are good at, it is keeping pace with an ever-increasing pace of technological change. IT has never been more pervasive, and with the proper level of training, employers can be sure that their teams are well-positioned to handle any changes brought about by Brexit.

Graham Hunter, VP for Skills Certifications, CompTIA (opens in new tab)
Image Credit: D Smith / Flickr

Graham Hunter is the VP for Skills Certifications at the IT trade association, CompTIA. Graham helps governments and organisations build a workforce capable of technical innovation, protecting valuable information and addressing the skills gap.