How L&D can help tackle the UK’s tech skills gap

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There's much that learning and development professionals can do to help address the burgeoning shortage of skills in the tech sector – but it requires more collaboration than ever before.

It’s no secret that the UK’s tech sector is facing a growing skills shortage, costing the country more than £60 billion a year.

In fact, only one in 10 (11%) tech employers are not expecting a shortage of skilled technology professionals in the next year, which suggests that the remaining majority are fully aware of this pressing issue.

With organisations across every industry now claiming that they want to be known as a tech company, the demand for professionals with tech expertise is not going to slow down any time soon.

With demand exceeding supply, what can be done to close that skills gap and ensure the UK tech sector is able to thrive against its international counterparts?

Educating the next generation

The baseline for tech learning and development is, of course, education. As has been the case for many decades, the education sector has grappled with the challenge of meeting the workforce demands of tomorrow.

The tech sector develops at such a fast rate that it leaves education institutions playing an endless game of catch-up in order to best equip students for the future world of work.

The best approach to this challenge is collaboration. If industry leaders coordinate more closely with the UK’s educational institutions and share their innovations, students will be set up with a stronger baseline of tech skills from which to build.

Students who are fresh from studying computer science and other tech related courses using the most up-to-date software could be a great asset to their new employers, potentially saving them expensive training costs.

As an industry, we need to be interacting with children at a younger age about the benefits of working in tech, before they are discouraged and move into other industries.

Nonetheless, tech companies shouldn’t solely focus on youth to meet the demand that the industry is crying out for. Their existing work force is a potential goldmine of experience.

The challenge of upskilling

Due to the rapidity of advancements in technological fields, companies can quickly find themselves having to change their approach almost overnight.

Instead of searching externally for new talent to meet their needs – something that can take time and money – businesses could look within their existing workforce.

This means retraining members of staff, devoting company time and resources to upskilling employees on the new technologies that will drive the business forward.

Experienced professionals are likely to be familiar with the regular need for upskilling. This makes the process of re-learning less burdensome, as most senior tech professionals have likely done it a few times before.

A more diverse tech industry can only have a positive effect and will help to bring in new ideas that will boost the industry in ways it hasn’t been before.

The majority of professionals in the tech sector are constantly in a learning mindset, picking up new skills and information every day.

The demand for upskilling in the tech sector can often lead to a higher rate of talent churn, especially for more junior employees. This is because employees move on to new jobs having only worked for a short period of time in a particular role, after acquiring new skills. Some businesses might see upskilling as a risk, with newly trained staff more likely to jump to new roles with their newfound skills.

This shouldn’t be seen negatively though, but more as boosting the skills of the industry as a whole.

Plus, those that get the correct training and development are more likely to appreciate the learning environment their firm has created and stay to take advantage of future training opportunities.

For those who do leave, creating this environment increases the chances they might return in the future while also appealing to prospective recruits unfamiliar with the company.

More women in tech

It’s true that the tech sector is in desperate need for more gender diversity, with the Chartered Institute for IT revealing that women make up only 17% of the UK’s technology workforce. This is a stat that needs to change.

A more diverse tech industry can only have a positive effect and will help to bring in new ideas that will boost the industry in ways it hasn’t been before.

Our Women In Tech survey revealed that three in five (59%) of respondents believe future technology innovation will be negatively impacted by poor representation of women in IT and tech roles.

The longer demand continues to outstrip supply, the more the UK may struggle to keep up with its international counterparts, particularly on innovation.

Stakeholders in the UK’s tech industry should not despair, however, as attitudes are shifting and there are a number of ways in which learning and development can better encourage women to enter the field.

For women already in the field, companies should aim to support them and equip them with the skills to become leaders, inspiring girls who share a passion for technology.

As a result, it will become apparent that this is the new norm and fewer girls will feel discouraged by not having female mentors to aspire to.

Beyond this, HR directors in tech should reconsider the office environment and ensure that it’s meeting the needs of female professionals just as much as it does for men.

Regardless of their gender, people who feel that their work is being recognised and they are developing and growing as professionals, are far more likely to stay in their chosen field.

How to address the skills gap

The UK tech industry is at a crossroads. The longer demand continues to outstrip supply, the more the UK may struggle to keep up with its international counterparts, particularly on innovation.

Below are three quick tips for the tech industry to help address its own skills gap.

  1. Collaborate
    The tech industry needs to collaborate with educators to inform and attract students to the sector at an earlier age. Businesses should reach out to local schools and educational institutions and offer appealing apprenticeship schemes.
     
  2. Re-skill
    Don’t always look externally, invest in retaining staff and upskilling them to plug any gaps.
     
  3. Diversify
    Make a concerted effort to promote diversity of thought, which will help improve our nation’s capabilities and global competitiveness.

Interested in this topic? Read Is the data literacy skills gap leaving the UK’s AI future hanging in the balance?

About Dominic Harvey

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