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The IT Skills Gap Crisis

Author: Deborah Walker

The UK is suffering from a major IT skills gap.

The biggest problem is recruiting quality candidates outside London. Many graduates and seasoned professionals want to work in the capital over any other location. Outside London there is less to attract workers, so these positions are harder to fill and typically also come with a lower salary. Raising wages outside the capital could help, but this is unlikely to happen. Any schemes that the government or tech companies can implement to promote areas as ‘tech hubs’ would be more likely to help in the distribution of skilled IT workers throughout the country.

The number of IT graduates is not keeping pace with the number of vacancies. This could be remedied by increasing the number of places on degree courses, however the current discontent over the level of tuition fees is not helping attract students. In my view, recruiters and tech companies could help by speaking with pupils when they are making decisions about their futures, promoting the kinds of courses they would see as attractive, and by making institutions aware of the skills most in demand by employers.

In the new IT economy, technical ability needs to be supplemented with excellent people skills in order to engage with and motivate those around other members of a project team. This is the core requirement for managing any IT programme. Successful projects need to be driven by engaging with the hearts and minds of the whole team: fail to achieve this, and a project is likely to falter. The importance and impact of this should not be underestimated.

A hinderance to filling these gaps is the reluctance to up-skill workers. This exacerbates the problem and stalls the pace of change, meaning that only the most agile and responsive businesses are fulfilling their potential. Insurers are one of these reluctant sectors: they could, for example, use AI to help with decisions such as which claims might be fraudulent. These developments can potentially cause ethical dilemmas though, and the Law Society has just launched a consultation into how algorithms can be used ethically. These will be very important questions that have to be addressed, and this underlines how digital technology no longer exists in a vacuum.

Passive workers aren’t looking to up-skill themselves for this new digital economy. These are the workers where hearts and minds must be won over by transformation leaders. Without converting this stubborn group of workers, change will stall. This group also risk the future of their own jobs, as the industry moves on around them, leaving them helplessly out of step.

I believe employers should offer training, meetings, seminars, and education opportunities to ensure that every worker has the opportunity to improve and take their place in the changing economy. One of the biggest threats to companies is the loss of the skilled workers that they already have. Workers who have the motivation needed to up-skill themselves will likely leave for a better employer if you aren’t providing the opportunities they want, and this includes training and motivation. It really is all about hearts and minds.