Addressing the IT skills shortage

03 May 2022

Michael Cantor, CIO, Park Place Technologies

Michael Cantor, CIO, Park Place Technologies

Never has there been such a perfect storm impacting UK IT skills recruitment. The sheer pace of digital cloud-based delivery, AI enablement and business intelligence data mining has driven an already impoverished IT skills market into a near state of stall. Recently, a Gartner survey¹ of global CIOs reported that 64% cited lack of attainment of qualified digitally skilled staff as being the most significant barrier to adoption of innovation they had planned to deliver¹. In 2020, the same question invoked just a 4% response.

Which factors have contributed to such a significant shift in CIO attitudes in such a short timescale? CIOs’ concerns have been heightened in the wake of Covid-19 when the finely tuned balance of recruitment desirability and loyalty have pivoted from the employer to the employee, with many employees stating that the pandemic has made them rethink their work/life balance in order to consider and enable greater choices - rethinking priorities when it comes to issues such as remote working, commuting times and the desire to contribute more to family and society.

Will the gaps be solved by fresh recruitment from graduates or advanced college leavers entering the market with existing digital skills? Serious government drives into promoting STEM subjects have only recently started making an impact, with the UK pushing popularity within education since 2011. As a result, UK universities have successfully boosted their overall Computer Science entrants by an additional 50% across a decade² whilst also adding courses to cover much needed specific skills in such dedicated degrees as Artificial Intelligence (there are now 224 undergraduate courses specific to ‘AI’³ in UK universities alone). But these encouraging undergraduate figures contrast with new research that shows a concerning earlier barrier to entry. The Learning and Work Institute’s latest research for the BBC₄ notes the number of 14-year-olds opting to take IT subjects at GCSE levels has dropped by 40% across a 6-year period. This could be through a lack of relatable role models especially for girls and women in tech, alongside a lack of understanding about job roles and potential career paths influencing the choices made at school level.

Many steps have been taken to include all sectors of society into IT including a recruitment drive to increase diversity and inclusion of females, minorities and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Traditionally STEM subjects have been harder to access and even unpopular particularly for young female students and those from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. The change results appear promising here. The UK government has recently revealed a 49% increase at undergraduate levels for female applicants across a decade of tracking. Even more impressive, is the increase of 79% for acceptances into STEM degrees from those classified as coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. The barriers of access based on gender, class or race are gradually being lifted and are helping to fill some of the longstanding technology recruitment issues. And even with all this effort, the UK still has some ways to go in levelling up. In 2020, females made up 58% of all university applications, but for computing degrees, women actually only accounted for 17%. (The 2030 target being 30%).

Understanding the current impact of IT skills shortages can be assessed by drawing upon localised data for tech job listings. Of course, these vary significantly within regions of the UK. Leading consulting firm Accenture notes a correlation between traditional heavy industry manufacturing areas in the North of England with a 450% increase in the number of empty roles appearing as tech adverts for robotics and automation skills. Accenture attributes this spike down to factories trying to add more technology into their processes in the UK’s manufacturing heartlands.

So, what happens then, before this talent pool is replenished through the emerging graduates of tomorrow? Today, CIOs face limited IT skills gap strategies to supplement the digital journey. Halt progression of digital enablement while the job market catches up so that skills can be adopted in house. Or, alternatively, continue with their planned digital journey, but seek individual project manpower boosts from trusted partners that have globally based, diversified, highly certified and experienced engineers available on demand.