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Tech skills are needed now more than ever, but companies must embrace flexibility to prosper

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa)

As businesses prepare to compete in the ‘next normal’, many are now looking at how they can emerge from the crisis stronger.

Some employers expect that they will have significant talent gaps to fill and skilled people will be a key differentiator when preparing for the post-Covid recovery.

What has become clear is that there is a pent-up demand for those with science, tech, engineering and math (STEM) skills.

Last month, we reached out to key clients across the STEM industries to learn more about how they have been impacted as a result of the pandemic. While the early stages of the pandemic saw recruitment activity drop by between 30-50 percent, the Technology market, in particular, has remained resilient. And our data shows promising signs as we look to the future.

This insight also showed that, in the UK alone, the number of professionals in Data Science, Salesforce and DevOps has grown by up to 12 percent since the lockdown. Many of these posts are contract based – which means businesses get the flexibility to hire on a more ad-hoc basis, while tech talent can access a variety of companies.

But what is driving the demand for tech experts?

Covid-19 has accelerated the trend of digitalization and elevated platform stability to a level it has never reached before. Organizations have been forced to transform overnight, with remote working and the need to overhaul internal and customer interfaces at the forefront of their work.

Internal meetings are now held through video conferencing platforms and the use of other digital engagement tools has become embedded into our normal working day.

Companies are now looking at tech-driven ways of communicating, improving wellbeing and attracting and retaining talent as they prepare for a more digital future.

There is also a crucial need to build resilience for potential future lockdown phases, or other risks to operations in the current volatile operating environment.

In response, we have witnessed digital transformation plans with 18-month time frames being turned around in just one month as a result of Covid-19 - with digitalization budgets being ringfenced by CEOs, CFOs, CTOs and COOs on a large scale.

This has been evident across a range of sectors, none more so than in retail, where companies have had to ensure their digital platforms can cope with the surge in online shopping.

But while tech disruption was evident in the retail industry even before the pandemic – there were over 9000 store closures in the UK alone in 2019 – people are now turning to tech platforms to engage with their favorite music artist or personal trainer. It means those service providers, who were previously thought of as deeply personal and requiring physical attendance, are now being forced to turn to tech to survive.

This has caused an underlying demand for jobs focusing on connectivity, security and platform stability. And with online platforms becoming full substitutes for many bricks and mortar businesses during the pandemic, it is clear why we are seeing consistent growth in job postings for tech professionals.

The challenge for businesses will be in how they attract the best talent.

Some have turned to their in-house tech talent during the crisis to address short-term needs in areas such as Cloud Architecture, Software Development and Systems Analysts as they look for cost-effective ways to run their tech infrastructure.

Others are expecting a rapid recovery in the second half of the year and are increasingly placing higher value on certain technology disciplines, and the urgency of filling those roles to drive IT stack modernization. 

In our UK market, in the last three months, there have been a lot of Covid-19 related job hires, particularly in the public sector, where there has been demand for outbreak project managers and bed management type roles.

As the world begins to move into the next normal, we are tracking what demand will look like going forward and as we start to register future projects, over 50 percent are tech related as companies continue their digital transformation journeys. So, we’re anticipating an uptick in demand for experts who can fill IT infrastructure and Cloud-based roles. And we’re expecting to see demand surges, not just in the UK but across the world, meaning employers will have to respond by filling roles using digital tools and a pool of reliable and highly skilled contractors.

As demand strengthens, flexibility will be key.

Tech professionals have been crucial in allowing businesses to continue throughout the crisis. Yet as we look to the future, the needs of business and the workforce will continue to evolve.

Life after the pandemic is going to look different and part of that difference is going to include being in a more distributed, flexible working environment. That means businesses will need to prepare to become more flexible and agile in the way they recruit. And it has become clear that recruitment will need to allow for virtual and remote onboarding of staff.

More than half (51 percent) of the clients we spoke to at SThree, told us that the biggest staffing challenge they currently face is either virtual candidate onboarding or the end-to-end virtual recruitment process.

That is reflected in the fact that managing this process and helping with cultural integration is an oft-repeated request made by our clients, and one in which SThree is well positioned to play.

Businesses that succeed in making virtual recruitment work while enabling an excellent remote onboarding experience and investing in remote working capabilities will have access to a much wider pool of tech talent.

But they will also have to continually meet the expectations of candidates, who want to work for companies that provide them with a clear purpose, meaningful work, flexibility and the trust to perform well.

Those who embrace all of these factors will not only find and retain the best tech talent, but will ultimately emerge strongest from the crisis.

Mark Dorman, CEO, SThree