The shortage of tech talent is hardly news – we’ve been aware of this rising trend for a while now. But with recent data indicating that the shortage of qualified tech candidates is at its highest since 2008, the ‘shortage’ is rapidly becoming a crisis.
It’s notoriously tough to recruit IT professionals and developers. With far more jobs available than qualified candidates, salaries are being driven sky high. The competition rests on the shoulders of employers, rather than candidates, and it’s fierce. A business is only as good as the talent they hire, and in the modern digital age only as good as the techies they can recruit.
There’s never been a tougher time to build a tech company, particularly if it’s a high-growth business that necessitates a constantly expanding team. Candidate demand continually outstrips supply, and the tech talent gap is only going to grow wider.
A recent survey of more than over 3,000 tech leaders indicates an amazing 65% have issues with hiring new talent, and it’s hurting their industry. And if you think it’s currently difficult to find top techies, research suggests that it really is only going to get worse. By 2030 the global candidate shortage is set to cost businesses trillions in lost opportunities.
Industries like financial services that are knowledge-intensive are going to be hit hardest, soon to find themselves short 10.7 million employees. Other sectors that are going to feel the burn are the media, technology and telecommunications industries, which will be short by 4.3 million people, and manufacturing will find themselves short 7.9 million workers.
That’s a lot of positions going vacant, even more work going undone (or poorly done due to the need to rely on individuals who aren’t up to snuff in terms of tech talent), and plenty of lost opportunities and capital.
So what are we going to do about it?
And how did we end up in this predicament in the first place?
The truth about the gap in tech talent is that it’s larger than any single industry or role. Rather, its an overall shortage of individuals who are tech savvy enough to manage the digital age. This may mean the ability to code, doing high-level, back-end tasks like website or app development, or the ability to effectively manage cloud based systems and effectively integrate and use processes that are increasingly tech-driven.
While there is a high demand for tech candidates to fill roles that are purely technology driven, there is also a general need for all candidates to have degree of technical skill to fulfil non-tech roles.
The way we’re working is changing.
We can no longer accept up-and-coming candidates who don’t have a good head for technology. Meanwhile, individuals who have been in roles for years are finding they’re no longer able to keep pace (let alone compete) for roles they are, in all other respects, superiorly qualified to fill.
Both economists and employers have been observing the persistent shortage in tech talent for over a decade now. The short answer to why this occurred is that coding and programming were not part of the curriculum ten to fifteen years ago, and the majority of individuals with enough experience and qualifications to fill the roles we need filling simply didn’t have access to a technical education.
Unless they specialised in a particular area of tech for their degree, they never learned it. And technology-based vocations weren’t nearly as prevelant then as they are now. Add to this this incomprehensible boom in technology that has occurred in the intervening years, and we have an industry that’s growing exponentially, coupled with a generation or more of individuals who were completely unprepared for the dramatic shift to tech.
The problem is exacerbated by the global nature of the digital age. Employers in every corner of the country and pretty much every country in the world need tech talent. And while the skills gap may stem from a general shortage of candidates offering programming and software expertise, it goes beyond this. There’s a mismatch in the manner in which techies search for new roles, and the areas in which employees are looking to hire people.
Yet techies tend to congregate in the tech hubs of the world and are disinclined to take on roles away from these nexus points. Tech hubs like London, Edinburgh, and Manchester are where the tech savvy want to be, particularly if they’re interested in specialising in a certain area. London, for example, is a mecca for all things AI, while Edinburgh and Manchester are leading the way in IoT (the Internet of Things).
This creates a very tight labour market in which candidates are completely in control, and would prefer to work in these hubs of technical wonder than anywhere else. This makes it nigh on impossible for businesses outside major tech cities to attract candidates. Initially it was employers in similar sectors who clustered together and created these digital havens – Silicon Valley being the obvious example – but with the recent shift, candidates are now running the show and they want to work with and around like-minded people, in environments that will further their tech careers and allow them to indulge their passion for innovation.
Tech roles are no longer limited to tech companies, with non-tech businesses frequently posting more tech job listings that the big techie firms.
Security, data sciences, and cloud computing are huge areas requiring technical expertise, and they’re essential to every business (particularly in the wake of GDPR and the ever-increasing threat of cyber criminals). And yet business analysts and project managers are all required to fully comprehend a lot of technical systems in order to effectively achieve their goals and complete their day-to-day tasks.
So while the candidate shortage and skills gap is a huge issue for the tech industry, it’s also a concern for every business out there.
The more advanced and capable technology becomes, with a rapidly expanding world of artificial intelligence, and increasingly sophisticated software at our disposal, we can only expect the job titles and skills needed to fill them to continue to grow.
See which tech roles we are currently recruiting for in Manchester and London.
Modern companies not only employ a broad range of software programmers, but also web developers, engineers, data scientists, and a veritable slew of other technologically educated individuals.
The innovation of programmes capable of automating tasks that previously fell on people, or proved impossible to achieve at all, have given rise to whole new roles, and an ever-expanding list of skill requirements. At the same time, those people who previously fulfilled the roles now helped by technology, find themselves unqualified for their own jobs.
Business leader and author Jason Stockwood recently released a book exploring the impact of AI on today’s businesses and how we can best embrace these changes rather than seeing them as a detriment. You can learn more about his pioneering techniques at our upcoming event Reboot: A Blueprint for a Happy, Human Business in the digital age.
As a result of all this, the ability to attract top tech talent increasingly relies on meeting the preferences of job seekers, including the places they most want to work. For many businesses that may mean setting up new locations in the tech hub of choice for their industry, or allowing candidates to work remotely.
Flexibility is now the hallmark of our increasingly talent-driven economy.
Increasingly the most important factor in the decision making process for candidates is (in addition to location) the company culture on offer in a role. This is closely followed by having a true passion for the product or service they would be working on.
Traditional recruiting strategies are terrible when it comes to showcasing what a business is really all about, and really making company culture a selling point. While there are many ways to address this issue, the onus is on the company to create a culture that’s appealing to the technically gifted.
Don’t underestimate the importance of maintaining good relationships with former workers both during their notice and after they leave. Head of Development at Lookers recently talked about how he encourages employees to pursue new avenues and develop areas of their careers that are important to them – even if that means losing them as an employee. Not only do they often see employees returning later in life with a stronger skill set but it creates a great culture within the business.
The trick is discovering holistic solutions that effectively manage the skills gap, and rethinking the recruitment of tech candidates completely. Beyond this, we need to be considering the long term implications of the candidate shortage in the tech sector and how we can address the root cause.
One of the hardest roles to fill currently is that of the data analytics expert, so much so that many employers are taking measures to connect them with qualified candidates in a more direct way. Microsoft, for example, recently announced a new professional degree programme specifically geared towards fostering talent in data science.
Education is definitely the way forward.
While we’re already making progress in this regard it’s vital that we place a stronger emphasis on providing technological education and the continued development of talent from the earliest age possible.
Focus should be placed on the fostering of excellent digital initiatives that really emphasise the development of STEM skills. Yet we need to go beyond STEM and look at the other skills required in top technical talent, including the 4 Cs:
The earlier in educational development we introduce digital and high-level cognitive skills the better. Creating learning environments that prepare children for working in the digital age is a challenge, yet it’s one shared not only by educational institutions but also businesses.
After all, it’s the businesses who ultimately suffer when they’re unable to hire people at the level of technical excellence they require to grow and succeed as companies.
Most of us still recall the advent of ICT as a core subject in schools, and the shift towards a greater emphasis on computer literacy. Now is the time to take this a step further, and begin weaving technological knowledge through every area of the modern education system. If this can be done in children while they’re still at primary school, it will foster positive attitudes towards technical learning, and ultimately ensure they’re better prepared to work in the technical age.
The youngest generations are remarkably tech-savvy, comfortable with all manner of devices and online forms of communication – it’s not uncommon to see 3 year olds with better ipad skills than their parents! Taking advantage of this natural interest and developing initiatives that teach coding skills alongside maths and English is an effective means of managing the tech talent shortage in the long term.
Once we’re laying down a strong technical foundation in primary schools, there will be more drive in teenagers to pursue a tech-centric education in secondary school and beyond. Creating a digital learning curriculum that’s centred around work-ready, real-world scenarios throughout high school and college will enable students to accumulate a diverse range of tech skills by the time they reach university or embark on their first job.
It’s not only to our young people we should be looking in order to address the tech crisis. Upskilling existing workers to give them the technical knowledge and skills that your company is lacking is an excellent solution to a recruitment crisis.
If you can’t find the perfect candidate, why not create one from an existing member of the team?
With government incentives enabling businesses to reclaim levy costs in order to fund apprenticeships, training your people on an ongoing basis has never been easier.
It’s certainly never been more essential.