The most in-demand IT skills in the UK

In the fast-changing tech sector, popular skills quickly become outdated as new ones emerge. With COVID-19 turning businesses on their head, we look at skills that will be most in demand when the pandemic subsides.

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Bet Noire / Getty Images

Additional reporting by Tom Macaulay

Since the UK was forced into lockdown in March because of the coronavirus outbreak, IT workers, like many in other fields, have had to deal with working from home,  tightening budgets, job cuts and the economic downturn that followed the pandemic.

But a recent report from Deloitte notes that some areas of the tech industry could actually be stronger than expected. IT spending forecasts point to a continued demand for cloud infrastructure services and an increasing need for communications equipment and telecoms services as employees continue to work remotely and teaching moves online.

Deloitte also says that organisations will need greater help from IT service providers in the future for procuring devices, setting up resilient and flexible networks and delivering greater levels of security to distributed workers.

“It’s not a huge surprise to see that Covid-19 has had an impact on the tech industry, much like the rest of the business world," said Dominic Harvey, director at CWJobs said. "However, it is good to see overall confidence in the sector remains high.”

He predicted the UK’s tech scene could rebound enough to kick on once the pandemic subsides – and if IT budgets are increased.

“Until then, it’s clear IT professionals are focused on providing the support they can and ensuring they have the right skills in place to keep things running now, before expanding in the future as everything gets back on track,” Harvey said.

Not surprisingly, the tech skills that were most in demand last year may not be as sought-after as companies come out of lockdown. While the pressure to keep up with new tech and the growing demand for skills can seem relentless, it’s never a bad idea to be ahead of the curve.

Here are the key skills to keep an eye on as you continue to develop your IT career.

Looking for a new job? Check out these live roles.

Network architects

Network architects are responsible for communication networks such as local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), and intranets. With an estimated 60% of the UK’s adult population now working from home due to the Coronavirus lockdown, corporate VPNs are under enormous strain and managing and securing networks has become an increasingly complex task.

Networks and infrastructure were never built to support such large-scale work-from-home efforts and although offices in some parts of the world are slowly starting to reopen, a number of surveys show that the vast majority of employees don’t want to return to the office full time – even when it is safe to do so. As a result, organisations are going to need skilled network architects to ensure networks can cope with the increasing demands placed on them, troubleshoot any system errors and solve bandwidth, scalability and reliability issues.

According to Robert Half’s 2020 Salary Guide, salaries for systems architects have increased from 2019, reflecting the growing demand for individuals with this particular skillset.

Collaboration tools

In the last three months, many office workers have taken an involuntary crash-course in how to use Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Slack and a number of other collaborative platforms. All three have reported staggering user growth since global lockdowns were introduced in March, giving employees a new, more informal way to keep in touch.

With most offices still closed, these platforms are the only way most colleagues can effectively communicate and collaborate. And while having a grasp of the basics is enough to get by for now, a proficient knowledge of these platforms is going to be a vital skill set in the future.

One study found that only 13% of workers wanted to go back to the office full time after the pandemic, meaning colleagues will be working together digitally for the foreseeable future. Therefore, knowing how to arrange, initiate and host video calls; work effectively and efficiently on projects via platforms such as Teams; and hold virtual meetings with both employees and clients are going to invaluable skills future employees are likely to insist on.

Wayne Kurtzman, collaboration and social media research director at IDC, said that throughout 2019, when workplaces were still open, IDC saw collaborative applications grow by almost 20%.

“Collaboration is a fundamental shift in how work is done, focusing more on teamwork and leveraging skills instead of silos. Due to COVID-19, the adoption of these applications was accelerated by five years.

“In short: They are here to stay,” he said.

AWS

Developer portal Stack Overflow reported surging demand for AWS skills across the UK and Ireland last year, with the popular cloud computing platform jumping from 12th place to fifth and gaining a 10.3% share of the skills tags found in Stack Overflow's jobs listings. On a more global level, learning platform Pluralsight found AWS was also its fifth most popular skill.

This demand is reflected in average salaries of £52,750 for AWS experts, to £65,000 for an AWS solutions architect, according to statistics on average annual salaries from PayScale. A LinkedIn Learning blog post also detailed how, according to LinkedIn data, cloud computing skills, like AWS proficiency, emerged as the most in-demand skill for 2019.

Cloud technologies have also had an important role to play during the pandemic, delivering the kind of business flexibility that is vital as enterprise needs and priorities shift.

Jay Litkey, executive vice president of cloud management at Snow Software, said that while many CIOs are being asked to trim costs, there will be continued investment in technology that allows long-term growth and stability.

A survey by Snow found that 60% of IT leaders plan to increase their overall cloud usage, with 66% of respondents saying they will continue to use the cloud services and applications they implemented during the crisis once employees return to the workplace.

Information security

With a well-publicised skills gap and a constantly shifting threat landscape, cybersecurity skills remain in hot demand.

While tech professionals feel general IT support skills may be needed in the short term, many are also still aware of threats. In CWJobs’ annual Confidence Index, more than a third (36%) chose cybersecurity as a specialism needed right now; it also emerged as the most desired skill needed in the next year (also 36%), ahead of cloud (30%).

And with so many people working from home, the threat landscape has not only grown, it's become increasingly complex. From determining what endpoint protection all those remote workers require to ensuring remote access doesn’t introduce new risks, COVID-19 brought with it a host of new security challenges.

The National Cyber Awareness system warned of COVID-19 scams that are circulating. As a result, while cybersecurity specialists will continue to be much in demand, every employee in every department should have a basic understanding of security and the skills to keep themselves and their organisations safe and secure.

Upskill yourself while working from home

If you’ve been furloughed as a result of the pandemic or found yourself with more time on your hands now you’re not commuting, you can use those extra hours to learn new skills.

Even if you’re not planning to change careers anytime soon, personal and career development benefits both employee and employer. It doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming, can be relevant to your current role or simply provide you with a bonus transferable skill that could be useful in future roles.

Online resources include a plethora of webinars and training sessions, with many content providers offering free or reduced rates to users as a result of the pandemic. Skillsoft, for example, offers 60 days of free access to Percipio, for those interested in online learning.

Podcasts have long been the listening material of choice for commuters. However, after you catch up with your favourite true crime or sports podcast, you can listen to one of hundreds presented by specialists talking about an area of expertise you’d like to brush up on. Try searching your favourite podcast app for keywords relating to your new skill of choice to filter out extraneous possibilities.

Finally, not being able to network with someone in the traditional sense doesn’t mean you can’t still connect virtually. Reach out to colleagues or potential mentors and suggest an informal video chat over a coffee. Networking is an important business skill in itself so make sure you try and stay connected with people.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
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