For a long time, people working in IT laboured under the knowledge that nobody from outside IT was interested in what they do because it’s all too technical – a bit boring and geeky. It’s been impossible to have a conversation about tackling the long-term skills shortages in IT without someone mentioning that the profession has an image problem.
The digital revolution seems to be changing attitudes, however. According to this year’s technology skills survey by recruitment firm Mortimer Spinks and Computer Weekly – one of the largest of its kind in the UK – 76% of non-IT/digital workers would consider a career in IT.
We should rejoice on any number of levels about this – but it raises a very important question: what’s stopping them?
If we’ve succeeded in convincing the technically unconverted that IT is an interesting, rewarding, motivating – and fun – place to work, we need to do more to get them over the line and into a job.
It’s expected that by 2020 the UK will have 800,000 fewer IT professionals than it needs – and that’s before you even consider the potential impact of Brexit given that 18% of the 1.6 million digital and tech workers in this country come from overseas.
For many years there has been a roll-call of initiatives to try to encourage more people into IT – from school computer clubs to women in tech programmes; from changes to academic curricula and closer ties between universities and industry. None of them have bridged the skills gap – and it’s a terrible indictment of IT employers that the proportion of women in IT has actually fallen over the last 10 years, now at a low of 16%.
The lack of tech skills in the UK is the biggest challenge faced by our digital economy as we seek to become a global technology leader post-Brexit. If we don’t have the people, we won’t have the growth.
It’s often been said that people outside IT think you need coding skills or technical expertise – our survey suggests even those attitudes have changed. Only about a third of non-technical workers think a key requirement for a tech role is coding ability, just 26% think candidates must have a tech-related degree, while only 33% think candidates have to be good at maths. They’re right – creativity, communication skills, and other soft skills are just as important.
The biggest problem over the last 10 years is the steep decline in training budgets. Employers looking to fill IT skills gaps must invest in cross-training for those 76% of eager non-tech workers – we need a concerted effort to convince them to play their part in our digital future.