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Tech sector vacancies increase by almost a quarter in 2018

Industry concerned over growing skills shortage as Brexit looms

The number of unfilled roles in the technology sector increased by 24.3% over the last year, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Between September and November 2018, there were about 49,000 vacancies in the information and communications sector, compared with about 38,000 in the same period in 2017.

Sarah Kaiser, employee experience, diversity and inclusion lead for Fujitsu Emeia, said a shortage of people to fill tech roles could “derail” the UK’s goal to be a global leader in digital.

“To sustain the competitiveness of the technology sector and to ensure it is driving forward the UK economy, we need to bring in a wide array of people from different backgrounds and with distinct ways of thinking,” she said.

In early 2018, Tech North found that in the north of England alone, there were 1.4 job vacancies for every digital worker in the region.

The industry is already concerned that not enough people are choosing to study science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) to fill the growing digital skills gap, and it is estimated that the UK’s digital economy will need about 2.3 million skilled workers by 2020.

Kaiser pointed out that developing technical skills is important, but encouraging more people from different backgrounds into tech could also help to close the skills gap.

“Developing technical skills, whether that’s studying computer science or learning new coding languages, can open the door to all kinds of careers, from design to technology marketing to managing a business division,” she said. “Yet too often there is a flawed perception that some groups, such as women or BAME [black, Asian and minority ethnic] individuals, don’t belong in Stem professions.”

But breaking down industry stereotypes to encourage people from diverse backgrounds to consider Stem careers is only one way to tackle the looming skills gap.

Some firms are choosing to upskill their current employees to adapt to the changing needs of businesses in the wake of technology adoption.

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India Lucas, programme manager for skills and diversity at TechUK, said the rise in tech sector vacancies is “no surprise”, as the sector has grown 2.6 times faster than the wider economy over the past year, “creating jobs that we are now struggling to fill”.

She added: “Companies are working hard to upskill their existing workforce and provide training further down the pipeline, but a new workforce simply won’t appear overnight. TechUK is an active supporter of initiatives like the Institute of Coding and the Digital Skills Partnership, but it will be a few years before we start to reap the benefits of these programmes.”

This emphasis on homegrown digital talent has been increasing since the UK decided to leave the European Union. As Brexit approaches, there are concerns over the number of EU workers choosing to leave the UK, especially as a large percentage of tech talent in the UK comes from overseas.

Also, a large number of talented workers are being turned away from the UK because of restrictions on visas for skilled workers.

Adam Thilthorpe, director of external affairs at BCS, described the number of unfilled tech roles in the UK as “worrying”.

He said: “At a time when digital jobs are becoming increasingly important to the UK economy, these ONS statistics are a worrying sign. With uncertainty around the UK leaving the EU and new technologies set to revolutionise the way we work, it is vital that these vacancies are being filled with high-quality talent.”

BCS, as well as many others, has advised in the past that the way to protect the UK from a growing skills gap after Brexit is to work on developing future homegrown talent, upskilling current workers and making sure the UK is open for overseas talent.

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