The solution to the tech talent crisis?

There are a number of scary statistics that have been doing the rounds for the last few years detailing the current talent shortfall in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) skills at 40,000 people with UK employers struggling to fill 43% of STEM vacancies.

Even more worrying are predictions of 800,000 jobs unfilled by 2020 according to Coadec (Coalition for a Digital Economy). 

The Cyber Security skills gap is the most pressing with research from Cap Gemini revealing that 68% of organisations had high demand for cyber skills but only 43% had the skills already present in their organisation

Employers and even the government have not been oblivious to this gap however.  They have been trying a range of tactics to solve the current and future crisis which has the potential to halt UK competitiveness in the global marketplace.

The potential solutions have typically focused on a mixture of trying to increase educational opportunities and hiring more women.  At the same time society has slowly started to accept ‘the geek’ as being cool which may have helped in a small way to channel more people towards the world of tech. 

The varying parties have all tried to solve the issue in their own way but a cohesive strategy where schools, universities, government, businesses and even society pull in the same direction is still lacking and it could be argued that each area has been relying on another to fix the issue.

The Education and Training Fix

Education fix

Education certainly has a key part to play in the current skills gap.  Only 7600 students in England took A Level Computing last year and less than 10% of those were female. 

Senior Schools often teach languages such as Python now so why do so few pursue it as a career?

Careers advisers at schools and universities have the almost impossible task of advising on the latest technology changes which can't help steer students accurately along the right path.  The onus shouldn't rely solely on them and technology companies are not the greatest at selling themselves to this audience at the same time.  We should be inspiring the next generation by demonstrating that IT can be an exciting and financially rewarding career

The focus on technical skills isn't working

Training is a sore point too.  Who pays for the training? educational establishments? companies? the employee?

And what to train on?  The focus has often been on training on specific products which has ellevated the skills gap further with expensive contractors often being deployed who desire ever increasing rates as the demand for their skills increases.

Companies still focus very much on the technical skills that are needed right now when hiring rather than training someone with the ability to learn, think deeply and other key soft skills useful for tech roles. 

They need to focus on wider diversity in their teams which brings diversity of thought, experience (sometimes customer experience too) and innovation.  The focus on the skills needed right now has had a huge hand in the current gender and skills crisis.  When employers hire for skills they tend to hire the type of people they are familiar with which exacerbates unconscious bias even further

Why hasn't the % of women tech workers changed?

women in tech

Our earliest programmers were women. 

75% of codebreakers at Bletchley Park were women. 

So what happened?

According to HESA (Higher Education Student Statistics) only 17.1% of computer science enrolments in 2016/2017 were female and that has even fallen slightly since 2014/15 from 17.2% - no ground-breaking change there then

There are a huge number of tech companies chasing a small pool of highly skilled female IT workers in their attempts to help reduce the widening gap of unfilled tech and stem roles. 

A focus on hiring women won’t be enough to combat the skills gap in the immediate future for a number of reasons including

  1. To encourage more women into tech we need to start changing the way that girls are conditioned from their early years such as the blue vs pink world that they are currently channelled towards
  2. There still aren’t enough girls in school or university following STEM pathways and despite recent efforts to change this there has been no noticeable uptake at the more senior levels so far
  3. The current pool of women already in the industry or qualified to enter the industry is still very small compared to the gap it needs to fill
  4. When a woman is employed in the industry there can be resistance and bias (albeit unconscious) which can slow down their career progress.  With a prevalence of all male teams it can be hard to fit in even if there is a conscious effort from all sides.  Not every woman would want to be the only female on a team either.  However, the more women that enter the industry the more balance there will be which in turn will eventually be more enticing to future female employees
  5. Women can often lack confidence in their own abilities despite their accomplishments and won’t apply for roles or may leave roles (aka ‘Imposter Syndrome’)

There have been useful suggestions such as sponsoring women to ensure that they have the career progression and mentorship that they need to stay and grow within an organisation.  Hiring and supporting women is definitely the right thing to do but it is not a quick fix and won't fill the gap quickly enough without a range of other tactics

We need a shift in culture

It would be a great day for diversity quotas if there was a sudden influx of women into tech roles and the yawning gap of unfilled tech and IT roles was filled but what we really need is a shift in culture.

We need to teach those willing to learn the skills if we want to grow our workforce.  We need to look for the brilliant minds that haven’t had the opportunity to work because they’ve been excluded from the current hiring processes.

We have to look at hiring differently

If we want to move forward and innovate we need a breadth of different backgrounds and experience.   We need to hire different types of people and we need to hire differently. 

We must open up our eyes to the groups in society who may have been forgotten.  And when we hire them we must ensure that we have the right environment and support to make them succeed and want to stay

Did you know that there is an employment rate of 49.2% for disabled people compared to 80.6% for people without disabilities?

A 10% rise in the employment rate amongst disabled adults would contribute an extra £12 billion to the Exchequer by 2030

Only 16% of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time paid employment and a moderately high proportion of those are likely to have the kind of brain that lends itself to working in STEM type roles

It is also likely that a proportion of any current tech workforce is already on the Autism spectrum but may be struggling with some aspects at work which could be alleviated with better awareness of Autism and Inclusion.  Quite often all that is needed are some simple personalised workplace adjustments to the environment and processes

The benefits to hiring inclusively

There are a huge number of benefits to changing your workplace culture to that of an Inclusive company.  Interestingly the benefits listed below are predominantly those that would help alleviate the tech skills gap and help boost our tech and STEM industries even further

  1. Innovation and problem solving
  2. Higher market share
  3. Wider economic benefit
  4. Better employees
  5. Higher job satisfaction and morale
  6. Loyalty and reduced turnover
  7. Higher productivity
  8. Increased organisational flexibility

Inclusivity is crucial for business success

Inclusive organisations attract, create and retain the best employees

Attraction happens because of their values of inclusiveness resulting in content staff and company success

Great employees are created when they are trained, encouraged and supported to problem solve, innovate and be supportive to others throughout their career

Staff are retained longer when they have high morale and don't see a need to move

It's time to rethink the way businesses work - the future looks bright!

Added 18-Dec-2019