Tackling the IT skills shortage through diversity of employment

We all have to do our part in tackling the IT skills shortage in the UK to ensure the industry continues to grow

The technology sector is outperforming the UK economy in terms of job creation and business activity, according to KPMG and Markit's latest report on the tech industry

Hiring in technology is close to its strongest for over three years, yet the latest Innovation Economy Report by the Silicon Valley Bank suggests that 94% of the UK's fastest-growing tech firms say finding the talent they need to grow is challenging.

IT is no longer a niche and narrow career path – it is a vital part of almost every business. The internet economy is now worth £145bn, representing close to 10% of UK GDP, and plays a vital role in the UK’s economic recovery. 

Having talented and reliable IT staff is a necessity for any business in the race for growth and development – not just those of us in the technology industry. Rather, every sector is finding technology innovation core to the way they reach new markets, expand their product or service offering, or streamline their production. 

Recruiting from the whole talent pool

We all have to do our part in tackling the IT skills shortage in the UK to ensure the industry continues to grow. One core issue is the under-representation of women, who currently make up less than one-fifth of the IT workforce. Given the extent of the IT skills shortage, we can’t afford to recruit from only half of the talent pool.

According to Nominet’s study in partnership with the Centre for Economic and Business Research, if the gender gap was closed and women filled the skills shortage in IT, the net benefit for the UK economy could be as much as £2.6bn each year. We also found that three in five IT decision-makers (58%) agree that their company’s productivity levels are negatively affected as a result of gender imbalance.

Although the lack of women in the industry is a key issue to address, we need to hire people based on individual merit and ensure we always have the best candidates for the job. Assessing the whole talent pool will be a core part of the way we meet this challenge.

I’m blessed to have to have some very strong women working in many roles across my IT organisation, but it was never a hiring strategy. We were lucky that we weren’t affected by the gender gap challenge prevalent elsewhere in our industry and were able to hire entirely on the basis of the right person for the right role.

Expanding the talent pool

Beyond the gender gap challenge, another major part of the problem is that there are not enough people with the right skills on the market. Our research showed that only 9% of women that take IT degrees go on to work in IT-related fields, and only a slightly better 26% of men do.

Three in five IT decision-makers (58%) agree that their company’s productivity levels are negatively affected as a result of gender imbalance

We need to do more to encourage graduates to pursue a career in IT after their degree finishes by showcasing the exciting and innovative work that is being done in the tech sector. The industry needs staff with a variety of skills, and not necessarily all from tech backgrounds.

Nominet has just opened a new office in London, right in the heart of Tech City, which will be entirely focused on research and development. This means we need graduates who can conceive and build new IT products, not just use existing ones, and think creatively rather than just technically. Similarly, there will be a call for people in IT with communications, analytical and commercial skills.

The UK IT industry could help by providing more inspirational role models and science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) ambassadors, who could inspire young people to study IT subjects, and enthuse and educate about the wide range of opportunities in the IT sector. It’s important that we demonstrate the vast opportunities and the breadth of the work on offer.

Businesses are also finding it difficult to find candidates for operational roles with an active interest in IT. This is partly down to outdated portrayals of IT being for “geeks”. Our research shows that around half of 13-24-year-old students believe that all careers in the IT sector are very technical, but those of us in the industry know this simply isn’t true.

Alternative routes to IT careers

Apprenticeships are a key route for recruiting fresh talent. 

Nominet's own scheme is in its fourth year and, thus far, all of our apprentices have progressed into full-time roles. By bringing apprentices straight into the company and giving them real projects to work on, while receiving team mentoring, apprentices gain practical experience as they study for qualifications that will progress their career.

We have a bold ambition for the UK to be a leading information economy so we need companies to embrace the next generation of technology talent, securing the UK’s future as a digital capital in Europe.

Simon McCalla (pictured) is chief technology officer at Nominet.

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