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Filling the gap: How to adapt to the UK tech skills shortage in 2022


Tech Skills Gap, Bright PUrple 2021
Bright Purple takes a look at how the British tech industry can adapt to the current skills shortage.
The British tech industry is in crisis, in fact it has been in crisis for a long time. Despite being the UK’s fastest growing industry, the country is facing a massive talent shortage across the board. 
The latest report from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on the tech skills gap suggests that data analysis is the fastest growing skills cluster in tech and is set to expand by 33% in the next five years.
The UK tech industry is facing its biggest shortages in cybersecurity, big data and analysis, and data architecture.
There are a multitude of factors affecting the tech skills gap and talent shortage, but there are also solutions to these issues if leaders are willing to invest more in retaining and upskilling their staff.

What does the tech skills gap look like in 2021? 

While the UK tech industry is in a growth phase, the DCMS recently estimated that despite competitive wages and a plethora of positions the cyber security recruitment pool falls short by 10,000 people a year, despite high demand for this tech skill in the UK.
Shortages aren’t limited to data analysis, but are spread across the tech landscape with two-thirds (66%) of digital leaders in the UK unable to keep up with changes due to a lack of talent. The government is currently concerned about how this will affect business and industry growth in the future. 
These worries are well founded, in a 2018 report from Robert Walters and Total Jobs, only 11% of the tech professionals they surveyed believed the UK tech industry was capable of competing on a global scale. In fact the report went on to state that 55% of those surveyed felt that Brexit would continue to exacerbate the skills gap and shortage of professionals already prevalent before the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
Earlier this year the Harvey Nash Group released its Digital Leadership report in partnership with CIONET and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology CISR. 
The report found that 80% of digital leaders feel retention is more difficult as employee priorities have changed in the post-pandemic world, while only 38% of businesses surveyed have since adapted their employment offers to suit these needs.

What caused the tech skills gap?

The UK tech skills gap is nothing new. The government has been aware of the issue for a long time, going as far as investigating how Brexit would affect the tech skills gap.
After 2016, the UK saw a drop of candidates in several areas creating a shortage of HGV drivers and nurses, with developers being cited as the third most in demand professionals
However, the skills gap isn’t entirely influenced by Brexit, there are multiple factors affecting the UK’s ability to combat a shortage of workers in tech.
Despite a government push for young people to retrain in the wake of the pandemic, there is little interest from the UK public in careers in tech, which is unsurprising given the reaction to the ‘Rethink, Reskill, Reboot’ campaign. 
The campaign was denounced by many, but particularly by those in the arts, hospitality and self-employment who this campaign was largely targeted at after their industries were hit hardest by the pandemic. 
With a lack of awareness of what careers in tech entail, it’s no surprise that people aren’t flocking to the industry. Coupled with other issues such as a lack of diversity in tech and pay disparity depending on gender, geography and company size, there is a lot of confusion over what the benefits of working in tech actually are.
Tech Skills Gap, Bright Purple recruitment

What can tech leaders do to fill the skills gap in 2022?

There are two main areas the tech industry needs to address in order to fill the skills gap: 
firstly there needs to be more awareness and guidance for early career professionals and young people about careers in tech; and secondly, employers need to invest in education and upskilling to retain skilled professionals and create the next generation of industry experts.
Some leaders are already looking at staff retention and how to help early career professionals pursue careers in tech. 
While development is out pacing education, UK professionals are falling behind due to a lack of support in upskilling or retraining. 
Creating tomorrow’s tech experts requires investment and dedication to supporting retraining and upskilling for early career and established staff alike. Experts also agree that retraining staff who have been on leave or extended absences should be a priority for companies. 
These experts are looking to work but often feel excluded because employers don’t invest time or money in their retraining, meaning they have to choose between their other responsibilities, like a family, or upskilling in an ever-changing field.
There also needs to be more understanding of how employee priorities have changed over the last two years. The pandemic has highlighted a need for a better work-life balance, but now employees are demanding one as well. So, competitive salaries alone won’t put your company ahead of the curve.
A well-rounded benefits package that includes living wages, flexible working conditions and the prioritising of rest and personal responsibilities is more likely to put you in good stead with today’s candidates.
How to bridge the tech skills gap in 2022
Nick Price, Bright Purple CEO and a 31-year technology recruitment veteran commented,
“The skills gap, as stated is not a new phenomenon, in fact it’s been around for as long as I have been in the tech recruiting sector and I joined that in 1990, long before digital and cyber. Back then, as an example I remember IBM and its customers, struggling to find MVS/CICs and Cobol talent in large numbers and the oil companies couldn’t find enough Oracle technologists. There were always many reasons, some of those reasons are the same today, such as money, but for the oil and gas sector at that time it was location. The talent needed wasn’t always that keen to move to Aberdeen, especially if they had great jobs in Edinburgh, Glasgow or London, so it took time to build that talent pool."
"However, the UK isn’t alone in facing this challenge, every country has its own issues regarding building enough tech talent pools and importantly, retaining them! There is a healthy movement of tech talent across the world, it’s why it’s a such great sector to work in, because its global from day one and allows you the opportunity to take your skills and try a new location."
"Even after Brexit, tech talent will still come to the UK from elsewhere in Europe or globally, after all and let’s not forget this, but we are an extremely desired, cutting edge, entrepreneurial tech nation. We will always have a tech skills shortage in one area or another and the reasons will continue to be multiple, as they have always been, because technology is growing at an exponential rate and we just can’t keep pace – we must find solutions (think outside the box) to fix the challenges most critical to you at the time and then set plans in motion to address the rest later.”

How can your company cope with the scarcity of emerging skill experts

As leaders spend more time combatting the skills gap within their own companies and training the next generation of tech experts, there needs to be consideration for how the skills gap presents itself now. 
Providing training for existing professionals is a good start, but companies also need to consider the transferable skills of those outside the tech industry. 
These transferable skill sets provide unique problem solving skills, which is well-suited to a rapidly evolving industry. Tech moves very quickly, and with most young people being digital natives it is worth seeing how their perspective and thought processes suit our most cutting edge jobs.
Creating the industry of the future means taking risks on unique candidates with varied backgrounds and investing in retraining established experts or those returning to the workforce. 
The skills gap is not an unsolvable problem, but it requires a lot more care than simply asking people to rethink, reskill or reboot.


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