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Top 10 IT careers and skills stories of 2021

What did the skills and hiring landscape look like for tech in 2021? Computer Weekly shares the key moments for IT careers and skills over the past year

As the pandemic continued into 2021, technology became an even more important part of businesses and life, making tech workers invaluable.

Where 2020 saw a pause on hiring and spending, 2021 was heavily focused on skills and tech talent as it became increasingly clear that the new, remote and digital way of working was likely to carry on once the pandemic passes.

But skills gaps still loom, both at a more technical level and when it comes to the basics – the year was focused on giving people the skills necessary to fill jobs and navigate a more digitally-focused day-to-day life.

1. Almost half of firms looking to recruit tech workers

The year started with tech firms scrambling to hire technology staff, with research by TechUK and CWJobs finding 45% of tech firms had tech roles to fill.

While the beginning of the pandemic saw a drop in hiring, this need for tech talent is a continuation from the tail end of 2020 where firms started to realise how helpful technology adoption had been during early Covid-19 lockdowns.

This continued towards the end of the year, according to firm Robert Half, which found hiring for tech roles is set to increase over the next year as the pandemic shone a light on the importance of tech talent.

2. Nearly 80,000 more tech roles filled at end of 2020 compared with end of 2019

Analysis of Office of National Statistics (ONS) data found a significant increase in the number of people employed in technology in the last quarter of 2020 compared with the same time the previous year.

With 80,000 more tech roles filled in 2020 than in 2019, and numerous roles added to the sector during the pandemic, Bev White, chief executive of the Harvey Nash Group, explained that while some sectors were hit hard by the pandemic, tech still proved itself to be a “sustainable job creator”.

This could be, in part, due to the heavy reliance on technology during the pandemic to ensure all employees could carry on working from home, as well as the increased use of online and digital services to keep the world ticking over during the Covid-19 outbreak.

3. Young people don’t feel they have advanced digital skills for work

Despite increased job creation and hiring within the technology industry over the past year, the UK’s IT skills gap remains.

A huge effort has been made in recent years to ensure young people have the digital skills needed for the future of work, but many young people are still not confident they have the more technical skills needed for roles in the tech industry.

Research by the Learning and Work Institute, in partnership with Enginuity and WorldSkills UK, found most young people know digital skills will be important for their future careers, but only 18% feel they have the more advanced tech skills employers might need from them.

4. Number of students taking A-level computing rose in 2021

This year saw another year of growth for uptake of computing A-levels in the UK, with an increase of 1,401 entrants compared with 2020.

Once again, exams in England were cancelled in favour of different assessment criteria, though results did not cause as much of a stir as in 2020.

The number of girls taking the subject remained low when compared with the number of boys, and when it came to computing GCSE entrants, the number of girls taking the subject actually dropped in 2021.

5. Is the tech sector facing an IT skills exodus?

The pandemic had many people, both in and outside of the technology sector, thinking about what they actually want from their lives and their careers, especially when it was proven people don’t necessarily need to collect in an office to deliver good quality work.

A large number of technology workers are currently thinking of changing role or switching companies, while according to figures from CWJobs around 8% of those in the industry are looking to move out of the tech sector altogether.

The pandemic may have also factored into the reasons behind these choices, with research by recruitment consultancy Hays Technology citing long working hours and working through holidays as reasons for looking to new pastures.

6. Tech job adverts increasing outside London bubble

The past year not only saw an increase in the need for tech talent, but also more tech roles being advertised outside the London bubble.

As the pandemic forced many businesses to allow their employees to work from home en masse, people began to realise there is less need to gather in and around the capital. Research by Tech Nation and he Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s Digital Economy Council found other cities around the UK have a high demand for tech talent.

In Edinburgh, 30% of job vacancies are for technology roles, closely followed by Reading, where 29% of advertised roles are in tech, and Glasgow, where 28% of job vacancies are for digital roles.

7. IBM pledges to reskill 30 million people by 2030

Collaboration has long been cited as one of the best ways to develop people’s digital skills, and tech giant IBM announced in 2021 it would be partnering with education providers, government departments and other organisations across 30 countries to give 30 million people worldwide new technology-based skills by 2030.

When explaining the reasoning behind the plans to deliver large-scale digital skills initiatives, IBM chairman and CEO Arvind Krishna said: “Talent is everywhere – training opportunities are not. This is why we must take big and bold steps to expand access to digital skills and employment opportunities so that more people – regardless of their background – can take advantage of the digital economy.”

8. Tech’s reaction to the Budget’s skills promises

As the year entered its final quarter, the government laid out its spending plans for the years to come, with chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak promising almost £5bn dedicated to reversing the pandemic’s effect on education, and a further £3.8bn to develop skills across the UK, not just for those of school age, but also to ensure lifelong learning for adults.

The announcements were well received by the tech community, but the consensus among those in the sector was that while these are good first steps to take, more needs to be done.

Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates, said: “It is important to note that this is not a silver bullet and the government will need to work more closely with education providers and the private sector to address the other issues causing the skills shortage.”

9. Three-quarters of global IT decision-makers facing skills gaps

Despite all the work done across the year to close skills gaps, IT leaders still can’t find the skilled workers they need to fill their empty digital roles.

As the year came to a close, research by Skillsoft found three-quarters of IT leaders worldwide are facing critical skills gaps within their departments.

To make matters worse, research by Boston Consulting Group also found a large number of IT workers have plans to move jobs within the next three years, with many looking to move as soon as possible.

10. What steps can we take to finally close the tech skills gap?

Even with initiatives from education providers, employers and the government, the UK’s technology skills gap still remains.

In 2021, Cath Everett looked into some of the initiatives currently in place to increase tech skills, the direction the tech skills landscape is headed, and whether there is currently enough being done to provide the talent the industry needs in the near future and beyond.

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