Tech talent shortage – why it’s time to get outside your comfort zone

The talent crisis continues to impact every aspect of the tech industry. There simply are not enough qualified individuals to support the work that is required – a problem that has been exposed by the acceleration in digital transformation necessitated by COVID-19.

At the same time, the global employment market is seeing some historic shifts – with more of us working from home, employees have never had as much choice as to where they work. Indeed, according to the US Department of Labor, the ‘great resignation’ saw a record 4.5 million American workers quit their jobs in November 2021, while employers posted 10.6 million job openings.

‘Do what you’ve always done, get what you’ve always got.’ Why it’s time employers looked beyond traditional hiring methods to tap into a potential abundance of tech talent.

In the UK, eight out of 10 digital leaders report that post-pandemic, new life priorities among staff are making retention even more difficult. The Harvey Nash Group Digital Leadership Report shows that four in 10 tech firms admit they can’t keep key people as long as they would like, as they’re being lured away by the offer of more money. Yet only 38 percent have redesigned their employee offer to make it attractive to staff in the new hybrid working world.

“The truth is that there’s very little stopping employees moving on, and this is at the heart of the challenges many organisations are now facing,” says Nick Gallimore, director of talent transformation and insight at ERP software vendor, Advanced.

“With location much less of a factor, increasingly the trend will be that potential employees have a much broader ability to choose future employers based around the things that are important to them. We are entering a phase where increasingly the talent will choose the employer, and not the other way round.”

“There’s very little stopping employees moving on, and this is at the heart of the challenges many organisations are now facing”, Nick Gallimore, Advanced

Nick Gallimore

 

Discovering new pathways to hiring

So how can employers attract young talent into enterprise tech? Moreover, what do they need to do to retain them? The issue of hiring and retaining talent clearly extends beyond training and qualifications – in the new hybrid era of work, employees can work anywhere, so what is to stop them going elsewhere?

CompTIA is an IT trade association that specialises in training and development for the tech industry. Its director of learning and skills certification, Zeshan Sattar, believes that how organisations approach bringing new talent into the company is just as important as training, qualification, and incentivising existing workers.

“Strategic on-ramps into tech, for instance, are some of the best investments an employer can make in this regard. Apprenticeships can give new life to workplaces. They can empower managers to hire from pools of talent which aren’t only made up of ‘traditional’ tech candidates, such as considering people who don’t hold traditional university degrees. Pathways like apprenticeships actively promote retention: workers who know that an investment has been made in their success are more likely to feel valued, and therefore take their roles more seriously,” says Sattar.

“Workers who know that an investment has been made in their success are more likely to feel valued, and therefore take their roles more seriously” , Zeshan Sattar, Comptia

Zeshan Sattar

 

The power of the non-traditional candidate

Sattar’s point about hiring outside the traditional pool of candidates is important. The pandemic’s impact on employment has been unevenly felt, with women, ethnic minorities, part-time workers and those on low incomes hit hardest.  Almost two-thirds of those who initially lost their jobs because of the pandemic were under the age of 25. Elsewhere, Accenture research shows that only 24 percent of young people are confident that they can secure a technology job.

“Young people know technology is completely redefining the world right now, but their lack of confidence in securing a tech job indicates a worrying disconnect between young people and a changing jobs market,” says Shaheen Sayed, technology lead for Accenture UK & Ireland.

“To help dismantle barriers, employers must nurture tech talent from all backgrounds and recruit from a range of disciplines, including the humanities and arts, as well as STEM subjects. The convergence of these disciplines is still underplayed in how we talk about technology and its application,” she continues.

“Their lack of confidence in securing a tech job indicates a worrying disconnect between young people and a changing jobs market” , Shaheen Sayed, Accenture

Shaheen Sayed

 

The good news is that more employers are starting to look further afield and re-evaluate their current job requirements to attract a wider pool of diverse talent. There are also schemes, such as an initiative to help tackle the underrepresentation of young Black men in London’s thriving technology sector. Tech Nation statistics show young Black men make up just five percent of London’s 589,730 strong technology workforce, in a sector which is worth £56bn to the economy.

A separate nationwide poll of one thousand 16 to 18 year olds by the Institute of Coding shows more than half believe the digital workforce lacks diversity. One in ten admit they are actively discouraged from pursuing digital education and jobs due to the lack of people that represent them.

“While some of these opinions echo what many people in the industry may already feel, what’s shocking is that these are the perceptions of young people who have yet to set foot in the industry,” says Nimmi Patel, policy manager for skills and diversity at techUK.

Patel says such individuals must be encouraged and supported into roles that offer future opportunities in a sector that needs their perspectives. “This new generation of talent will take a while to come through against the backdrop of today’s job crisis, so now is the time to recommit to reaching those who may be considering switching careers or looking to return to work with an updated skill set.”

“With increasing availability of online and virtual digital skills training, organisations are able to build a more inclusive workforce”, Nimmi Patel, techUK

Nimmi Patel

 

TechSkills believe that by signposting and helping fund bite-sized industry-led training designed to fit around the learner and their life, they can address some of the biggest barriers to training and skilling.

“Remote learning increases accessibility and with increasing availability of online and virtual digital skills training, organisations are able to build a more inclusive workforce with up to date digital skills,” says Patel.

“We need to support people back into new work, and efforts should be made to use this rupture to direct, support and incentivise the newly unemployed into secure, resilient jobs. While some high-level jobs will require degree-level training, many productive technical digital skills can be acquired through other means. More modular learning can offer easier avenues for people transitioning between sectors.”

Investing in potential

One of the problems is that the enterprise software space, like other areas of the industry, has been reliant on hiring for previous experience as well as qualifications and training.

“It’s a competitive market and therefore a high value is placed on previous industry experience,” says Gallimore. He believes there aren’t enough enterprise tech companies eager to invest in the development of younger people who have potential but lack the experience – which is the reality for most younger people. 

“What’s vital is that companies can demonstrate how they plan to work with and develop the inexperienced people they want to bring in,” he says.

But at the same time, Accenture’s Sayed believes the new remote work landscape can generate considerable recruitment opportunities, as businesses can now tap into regionally diverse talent pools to help counteract the tech skills shortage.

“Not only will this make an impact from a social mobility perspective, but the diversity of perspective opens new doors for businesses,” she says. “The hybrid working era should be seen as an opportunity for businesses to reach this talent, rather than as a barrier, as long as organisations have the right infrastructure to connect, support and grow new talent.”

Salary taking a backseat to company culture, CSR and ESG

It is important too, to look at the factors that potential candidates are prioritising today. For a growing number, flexible working or a company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) and environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies are now just as important as traditional considerations such as salary.

“In addition to the learning and development opportunities available, recruitment candidates often tell us that they are attracted to EY because of our culture, commitment to diversity and inclusion, and our approach to flexible working,” says Benoit Laclau, EY UK&I managing partner for consulting.

“EY has been a longstanding champion of flexible working and has recently started transitioning to a hybrid working model, which is an evolution of our approach. This enables our people to split their time between the office, client site and their home. We think this will enable us to maximise all the benefits of both in-person collaboration and flexible remote working for our people and clients.”

“Candidates often tell us that they are attracted to EY because of our culture, commitment to diversity and inclusion”, Benoit Laclau, EY

Benoit Laclau

 

Gallimore says it’s a myth to suggest there is a shortage of talent. In fact, he points out that “there’s actually a huge abundance of talent, but organisations that remain steadfast in their desire to hire people with specific experience – as opposed to working with high potential talent, bringing them into the organisation and then working to develop them – will face a continued squeeze on talent supply as the effect of the past two years continues to impact people’s choices.”

What is clear is that an organisation’s purpose, values, employee experience and culture will be key – and crucially how sophisticated the organisation is at demonstrating these. At the same time, prospective employers will need to look beyond their traditional methods of recruitment, and the existing thresholds they have in place, to ensure they attract the wider pool of diverse talent needed to successfully compete in this new era.   

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