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The Information Technology Skills Gap: The systemic need for resolution

Throughout 2014 reports of ‘skills shortages’ and ‘an increase for technical jobs’ were in abundance across all media. Further, questions are being asked if education is producing enough to ensure that the UK economy have the adequate skills to support growth and development

Mark Braund, CEO, InterQuest

Throughout 2014 reports of ‘skills shortages’ and ‘an increase for technical jobs’ were in abundance across all media. Further, questions are being asked if education is producing enough to ensure that the UK economy have the adequate skills to support growth and development. The digital sector contributes £69 billion to the UK economy but an anticipated shortage of around 300,000 professionals, in the next ten years, threatens to stifle the UKs potential. While considerable efforts are being made to bridge the gap in skills; from a curriculum change in support of IT skills to an £85 million government investment in modern apprenticeships, the skills shortage remains the biggest obstacle to achieving the UKs potential.

Last year InterQuest conducted a survey of HR Professionals that showed that a significant majority of organisations were experiencing an increase in demand for specialist IT skills, coupled with organisational difficulties in recruiting for those roles.

Notably, recent figures from the REC showed that, in Quarter 3 of 2014, 22% of employers were anticipating a skills shortage for technical jobs – a 10% increase on the previous quarter. The staggering figures highlight systemic necessity for policy change in favour of equipping young people with the skills required to support the UKs economic demands.

According to a report from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), IT specialists will be the driving force behind the UK economy over the next ten years - the digital sector alone will require 300,000 workers to maximise its full potential. Rachel Pinto, research manager at UKCES, said: “The digital sector contributes nearly £69 billion to the economy. It is also one of the most productive sectors with a growth rate since the recession three times above the average."

If web technology, analytics, IT and digital sectors are to achieve the economic progression that the UK demands, digital skills education must become a core syllabus from an early age. While an overhaul of IT curriculum is currently underway, this is a long-term solution suggesting we will experience a generational gap in skills and stifling the UKs prospects of leading innovations in digital sectors.

However, there is evidence of success from a host of innovative schools and after-school clubs who are doing exciting and meaningful work to plug the skills shortage. For example, there is a nationwide network of volunteer-led after-school coding clubs for children aged 9-11 being run by the Code Club.

While Higher Education is coming under the spotlight, there is growing demand for degree-level technical skills that is currently not being met by traditional university courses alone according to CBI’s recent report, ‘Tomorrow’s Growth.’ There is a clear need to create more diverse routes into the digital industry with the support of employers and education bodies alike. Despite employers developing associations with schools and further education colleges, and increasing investment in apprenticeships and training, there are wide concerns about the talent pipeline. It seems that the UK talent pipeline must then be broadened with the development of a long-term strategy to encourage more young people to study computing-related subjects, offer transition training and support Modern Apprenticeships (MAs).

Government support for MAs is clear. Chancellor George Osborne’s Budget has increased investment in the government’s Apprenticeship Grant for Employers (AGE) scheme by £85m in 2014/15 and 2015/16, with the aim to support a further 100,000 apprentices in the UK. The Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) is also driving forward an ambitious apprenticeship reform programme, building on a 2012 review carried out by entrepreneur Doug Richard. The intention is to create new, more employer-based and employer-led training frameworks and standards for apprenticeships – essentially making apprenticeships more appropriate and relevant for employers by 2016/17. Modern apprenticeships could be one vehicle for partnering employment and education to address the IT skills agenda head on.

The significant national co-ordinated focus will not be achieved with short term investments alone, there is a transparent need for employers to take a shared ownership of the skills agenda and play an active role in training the next generation of web technology, analytics, IT and digital specialists. Matt Cynamon, the European director of General Assembly, believes that by providing hands on training in tech design and business, a new generation of IT professionals will be nurtured with the skills they need to succeed. Employers must also invest in existing specialists in the industry if they are to compete in the rapidly evolving market.

The skills gap highlights, now more than ever, the necessity for acquiring and retaining niche skills and talented specialists capable of ensuring businesses stay relevant in the digital economy. Due to rapidly evolving market trends and fluctuating business needs, it is vital that businesses have both long and short-term solutions to the skills gap.

At InterQuest, we are seeing an exponential increase in new clients - across all industries - seeking support in sourcing skilled specialists to deploy new projects, implement emerging technologies or replace the loss of talent. In response to rising demand, we have built focused communities of talented professionals to ensure our clients have the right talent to maximise their potential. Amidst the IT skills gap, specialist recruiters are becoming crucial partners in the ‘war for talent’. Furthermore, despite the sensitivity around the subject of immigration, talent from overseas will continue to play a fundamental role in providing businesses with access to niche skills at critical junctures.

Ultimately, however, business investment in IT and digital skills at an educational level will be the deciding factor of whether the UK’s digital economy will reach its full potential.