Tech industry is ‘eating itself’ through automation and lack of skills, says Harvey Nash survey

As IT jobs become increasingly automated, continuous skills development is the only way to prevent the tech industry from “eating itself”, according to a Harvey Nash survey

Technology industry professionals need to take part in continual learning to avoid the industry “eating itself” through job automation, research by Harvey Nash has suggested.

The recruitment firm’s research found 45% of global technology professionals expect their job to be automated in the next 10 years.

Many believe the automation process will cause their current industry skills to become redundant, and 94% think their career choices in the industry will become very limited if they do not learn new tech skills.

Robert Grimsey, director at Harvey Nash, said tech employees need to focus on the areas of their roles that could not be automated and build on them.

“The reality is that most people do at least something in their job that can be automated, but the key for technology professionals is to identify what areas are least likely to be automated and to focus on developing their skills in these areas,” he said.

The likelihood of job automation varies with the responsibilities required in a role, with 67% of testers and 63% of IT operations professionals believing their roles will be significantly affected by automation in the next 10 years.

Senior management positions, such as the CIO or vice-president of IT, believed they would be affected the least due to the difference in the skills needed for their role.

“The topic of tech skills is a challenge for the sector.  Many employers would be happy to hire someone who had the right personal attributes, but not the specific technical skills, and then train them,” said Grimsey.

But only 12% of tech professionals said they wanted more training in their jobs, and 27% said a new qualification was a priority for their careers.

The need for skills

The demand for tech skills has still not declined, however, even with automation potentially on the horizon. Empty digital-based roles alone are costing the economy approximately £2bn a year.

Roles in analytics, big data, software engineering and augmented reality are in high demand, and are cited as important skills for potential tech candidates to learn.

However, 75% of tech professionals believe recruiters and headhunters are too focused on specific technical skills, which means potential candidates who would be good to fill the role – but may not have the exact skillset firms are looking for – are overlooked.

Firms are fishing from the same pool of qualified people, with software engineers getting an average of 11 calls per year from headhunters offering them another similar role.

This rules out other potential sources for the industry, including graduates who could be upskilled to fill a role, said Grimsey. Although experienced software engineers will always be in demand, companies are “missing an opportunity” to bring new people into the tech industry, he added.

“Defining exactly what the right personal attributes are, and then finding a way to assess people on these attributes, can be a challenge,” he said. “If you are looking for a team player who’s technically adept and a quick learner, what exactly do you look for in a CV to differentiate one person from thousands of others?”

Where are the women in the sector?

According to Harvey Nash, 16% of those who completed its 2016 technology survey were women, an increase from the 13% who responded in 2013 – albeit a small increase.

The pace of change in the industry has been labelled “glacial”, but part of the reason for the lack of women going into tech might be that there is a lack of women in technology already.

One of the often cited reasons for young girls and women not choosing a career in technology is the lack of role models – you can’t be what you can’t see.

“What are the underlying challenges of women in tech? One big challenge is the number of women entering the industry. Many women outside the sector just don’t seem to find it attractive,” said Grimsey.

In the Harvey Nash CIO survey for 2016, it was found 9% of CIO and vice-president positions were held by women – an increase of 3% from the previous year. While this is not a huge shift, Grimsey said it was at least a positive one.

“One of the most important things we’ve found in promoting gender diversity is having role models. Having more female CIOs will undoubtedly bring more women into the industry,” he said.

The Harvey Nash CIO survey also found 30% of organisations have a diversity initiative in place, something that may indicate a shift towards more gender-balanced IT teams in the future.

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