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Overcoming skills shortages in the IT sector: Top tips for firms looking to hire the best talent

people sat in chairs waiting for an interview
(Image credit: Getty)

Finding the right talent for your IT business shouldn’t be challenging. However, there’s one particular looming obstacle that you need to take into consideration, chiefly that the entire sector is currently experiencing a skills shortage. According to the latest report from the DCMS entitled Sectors Skills Shortages and Skills Gaps (opens in new tab), approximately a third of vacancies (33.38%) across England and Wales are due to skills shortages in the industry.

While there’s a variety of skills within which demand is outstripping supply, there’s a severe lack of digital skills in particular within the workplace. Since the digital world is catapulting forward at an immense rate, finding talented professionals who fit the bill may be difficult. This conundrum is causing countless businesses problems when it comes to their development, expansion and recruitment and has been labelled as a looming disaster for some time now.

Understanding the cause of the skills shortage and how your company can overcome it is paramount. Within this guide, we will take a look at everything you need to know here.

Where has this digital skills shortage come from?

woman working from home on a video call

Remote work has changed various aspects of modern professionalism − no more so than in the IT sector (Image credit: Getty)

First things first, you may be wondering what’s causing the skills shortage across the sector. The recent surge in remote work has changed various aspects of modern professionalism. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of working adults who did some remote work increased to a massive 37% (opens in new tab). This shift meant that many workers had to swiftly adapt to a new way of working and adopt to new forms of technology and software.

That’s not the only way that the pandemic impacted the IT sector. The international crisis served to widen the digital skills gap in other ways too. Since many workers were furloughed or even made redundant during this period, they may have missed out on vital training. That may have left significant gaps in many professionals’ knowledge. While the world slowed down, the digital transformation did not, and so some people got left behind.

What’s more, the shift towards remote work has shown how some professionals are lacking. Before the pandemic, they may have had enough knowhow to get their job done. However, when it comes to using digital tools to keep in touch and manage their work-flow, it’s an entirely different story. Put simply, when workers are left to their own devices at home, their lack of tech skills are harder to ignore.

How to identify the right talent

people talking in an office

Understanding what a team lacks is the first step in the recruitment process (Image credit: Getty)

Ahead of hiring new talent, it may be worth checking with your existing staff members. Understanding firstly what exactly it is that your current team lacks is an essential first step to planning out your hiring process. The more aware you are of your current business needs, the better overall decisions you can make.

Next up, when you’re hiring for a new role, you may want to hire somebody who has the knowledge to educate the rest of your team. While your new hire won't be able to solve all of your skills shortage problems, they could help bridge the gap.

Hiring a highly-skilled professional may allow you to offer in-house training to existing team members and give them somebody who they can turn to for advice. Keep in mind though that if this peer education is to be a main component of a hire’s role, that they are not overloaded with other tasks that could hold them back from their teaching duties.

Keep in mind that—so long as a professional has the acumen and ability to learn—it may not matter that they don’t have the right digital skills. Once you have this person on board, you may be able to help them upskill. There are plenty of options here, including online learning and gaining new skills on the job. Consider hiring someone with a natural talent for problem-solving as they may find learning technical skills a breeze.

What to do if a role has no successful takers

empty chairs

Is your recruitment team struggling to fill a long-term vacancy? (Image credit: Getty)

If you’ve already exhausted the realms of LinkedIn and other job boards, you may not know what to do next. Rather than finding the right talent externally, you may want to promote within your ranks. Upskilling existing employees is a potentially lengthy but rewarding way to invest in the future digitalisation of your business. Enablement programs have been suggested as one potential fix, with an emphasis on the continuous personal development (CPD) of employees.

Additionally, you may want to go down the apprenticeships route. Young people who have grown up with the internet may have a natural flair for digital skills. When you have hired the right candidates, you can turn to training providers to help upskill them. Whether it’s learning about cybersecurity, digital marketing, or social media, there are many options.

Other business changes that can come in handy

If you have control over the talent acquisition in your company, there are other ways to manage the digital skills gap (opens in new tab). It could be useful to encourage incentives to those employees who can demonstrate their learning both within and outside of work, with a culture of lifelong learning something that everyone has to immerse themselves in. 

Likewise, ensuring that team members have the time and resources to focus on skills development is key, with a portion of your budget ringfenced for training purposes in an ideal scenario.

Business leaders also need to lead by example and be at the forefront of the digital transformation. This move will set an example for their staff and help keep your personal skills at the level which they need to be. 

Should you fail to continuously improve yourself, not only does that send the wrong message throughout your organisation, but it means that you might not be aware of new tools, programs, approaches etc that can really improve performance. 

Finally, it’s important to understand that it’s not just IT professionals that need technology skills and that this skills shortage is something sweeping all sectors of the economy − 63% of charities for example are lacking just a basic digital strategy (opens in new tab)

It therefore might be worth tailoring your recruitment strategy along these lines, not to look for someone with experience solely in the IT sector, but with experience demonstrating the skills you want in another field. Experience wielding such skills is what’s key rather than where they did it.

Sarah-Jane MacQueen is the General Manager of the team at CoursesOnline (opens in new tab).

Sarah-Jane McQueen
Sarah-Jane McQueen

Sarah-Jane McQueen is the General Manager of the team at CoursesOnline, where she has charge of the entirety of their UK operations. With a background in recruitment, she focuses on helping professionals and organisations enhance their skills development operations to drive productivity and results.