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Women more likely to have retrained for tech roles than men

Research by WISE finds women are more likely to have retrained for a tech role than men, and half of people in tech think soft skills are more important than tech skills

Women are more likely to have retrained for a technology role than men, according to research by WISE. The campaign for encouraging more women into careers in science, tech and engineering found that 15% of women surveyed had retrained for their tech role, compared with only 7% of men.

It also found that more than 70% of respondents did not have an undergraduate degree in computing, and either had a degree in other science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, or in 29% of cases no STEM-related degree at all.

Kay Hussain, CEO of WISE, said: “When one considers that latest estimates suggest we need 1.5 million additional people with advanced skills in the next two years, it is clear that 26,000-28,000 UK computer science graduates a year are not going to be enough. Employers need to remove the barriers to entry for those from non-computing backgrounds and be increasingly creative in how to find new talent from non-traditional sources.”

Research has found that women make up only about 17% of technical roles in the sector, while the skills gap grows, with many suggesting the skills gap could be lessened if the gender gap in tech was also addressed.

Hussain pointed out that women are an under-utilised talent pool in the tech sector, with WISE research also finding many agree that the diversity of thought brought to the table by women or those with non-computer science degrees is more important than the degrees themselves.

“Our advice to employers is to focus on the skillset required for roles rather than qualifications alone – doing this is likely to widen their recruitment pool considerably,” she said.

When it came to those surveyed by WISE, only 28% of those in tech had degrees in computing, 9% of whom were women and 13% were men, while of those with degrees in non-STEM subjects, 16% were women and 13% were men.

More than half of tech workers said soft skills such as communication and leadership were more important for the day-to-day of a tech role than more technical skills such as programming or coding.

When it comes to gaining the skills needed for more technical roles, women were found to be more likely than men to take courses part-time, and of all of those surveyed, 60% of those who had taken courses had done so part-time.

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Just over 45% of respondents said they had taken qualifications to obtain their current role, and of those who had undertaken courses, 74% had done so to add to the skillset they already had, whereas 26% said they had retrained entirely for their current role.

Of those who had added to their existing skillset for their role, 35% were women and 43% were men.

WISE also found that firms were far more likely to provide financial support for those looking to add skills to their existing skillset, as opposed to retraining entirely. Of those who had taken part in courses to add to their skills, 75% said the courses were paid for by their employers, compared with 54% of those taking courses to gain new skillsets.

The differences in how women and men have acquired their skills may be leading to a difference in the types of role men and women pursue in tech, according to WISE. It found that women are more likely to choose courses in areas such as project management or business management roles, whereas men are more likely to choose to train in skills such as systems engineering or systems architecture – leading WISE to predict that this may lead to further gender divides in some tech roles.

Hussain added: “Arguably, these roles do require a computer science degree or, at the very least, fairly lengthy in-house training. The move to the cloud and increased use of software versus hardware means that this traditional training is required less frequently than it once was, but it remains imperative that we continue to push for a better gender balance in traditional computing education to achieve gender parity in these areas too. This push should run alongside the broadening of recruitment practices and the recognition of transferable skills.”

WISE made a number of recommendations for employee retraining, which may, in turn, lead to the attraction and retention of tech workers, including emphasising skills rather than qualifications in job ads and recruitment practices, recruiting outside the usual pool, offering mentoring and coaching to existing staff, offering visible and accessible role models and working alongside education providers to give new workplace entrants transferable skills.

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