UK tech skills gap set to narrow

As the on-going pandemic keeps large portions of the UK workforce furloughed or made redundant, research shows record numbers of people are looking to enter the tech sector.

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The UK tech skills gap is set to narrow, primarily because of IT needs exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, according to tech recruiter CWJobs.

In a report this week, CWJobs found that more than half of non-tech workers are contemplating a career change and eyeing tech-based careers; almost one in 10 workers have already made such a move. The survey involved more than 2,000 professionals, comprising 1,120 tech workers and 1,026 non-tech workers.

The tech industry has long experienced a skills gap, as the demand for top talent has exceeded supply. The COVID-19 pandemic amplified the disparity as businesses saw the increased value of IT skills and tech support. Nearly half of IT workers said their company is currently recruiting candidates for tech-based roles, offering greater opportunities for those looking to retrain and upskill into the tech sector.

The impact of COVID-19

As for how COVID-19 has impacted individuals’ professional aspirations, one in eight respondents said the pandemic sped up efforts to change careers completely. And when asked about their motivations going forward, a quarter of all workers put stability and security over salary.

(Fully one-fifth of IT workers said one of the main advantages of working in a tech role is greater career stability, as well as the fact that companies are prioritising tech due to learnings from Covid-19.)

Government figures from September estimated that around 30% of the UK workforce has been furloughed at some point during the pandemic, with an estimated 2.7 million claiming unemployment benefits. As a result, said Nimmi Patel, TechUK's policy manager for skills, talent and diversity, it’s unsurprising that young people, many of whom already work in precarious or low-paid jobs, want a greater sense of job stability.

“The younger generation, the under 35s, have been through a number of once-in-a-lifetime financial crises in the last 15 years,” Patel said. “It's a case of understanding that what is important to some people now, as the research has shown, is that stability.”

Dominic Harvey, director at CWJobs, echoed that view. He said the pandemic has highlighted the important role technology has to play in helping organisations achieve long-term business success.

In the UK, the tech industry often provides opportunities for individuals looking to future-proof their careers through retraining or entering a completely new career. The latest salary guide from specialist recruiters Robert Half found that in 2021, tech is one of the few industries where salaries are expected to remain stable.

“[CWJobs] new research reveals that jobs in IT and tech are likely to offer a sense of security for those looking to enhance their employability and ensure they are adaptable and resilient to the new world of work," Harvey said.

Technology is more than just coding

The report also found that tech roles are becoming an increasingly attractive option for non-tech workers, with nearly three in 10 agreeing their careers would be better future-proofed if they develop IT skills. With that in mind, more than a fifth of those surveyed have taken online tech courses during the pandemic. Just under a quarter of IT workers said one of the advantages of being in IT is the constantly changing development of software and hardware.

With the UK about to enter its second lockdown, most office workers have just entered their eighth month of working from home. That helps widen the candidate pool when job vacancies arise, Harvey said. That can lead to new opportunities for people who might have previously been locked out of a traditional 9-to-5 role due to childcare needs or disability, for example.

Almost three in 10 IT workers believe their company needs to recruit new talent to handle the increase in remote working and bolster IT support and security. Not surprisingly, the top online tech course taken in the past year by those surveyed involved IT support.

“It has been proven in the crisis that [work] can be done remotely, so there's the potential for a lot more people to be added to the list of people that could be retrained or return to work. People's minds have really been opened up to these possibilities, but I still think there's more work to be done,” he said.

Patel agreed, saying the tech industry has worked to try to attract a more diverse range of workers and make sure careers are more accessible. However, she said, these non-traditional ways into the industry aren’t always easy to find.

“The research has shown that the capacity and motivation to learn digital skills has increased quite a lot. But how can we capitalise on that and how can we ensure that as the industry continues to thrive, we have access to talent and also provide opportunities for people because we know that working in the tech industry is really enjoyable,” she said.

Harvey said assumptions about what a “technology role” is have been changing and can be fundamental to ensuring the skills gap continues to narrow.

“I still don't think there's enough is being done to highlight what constitutes working in tech, because if you look at the data, actually 'coding' is quite far down the list in terms of what the requirement is,” Harvey said. “The really encouraging thing is there are actually a lot of potentially more entry-level roles, so if you're new to tech, It wouldn't be that long before you could be up and running and helping out companies within those environments.

“Coding is much more of a lifelong journey and that may be a bit daunting to some people. We need to expose the fact that business analysis, helpdesk support and even basic cybersecurity could all be done by entry-level people if they’re given the right support to retrain.”

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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