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Reassessing the UK’s tech skills shortage

By Hannah Birch, Managing Director, Europe at Ensono
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The UK is facing an ongoing shortage of skilled talent in the tech sector. Expanding educational opportunities in tech is one crucial way to address this shortage. Therefore, the Chancellor’s announcement of extra funding for T Levels and apprenticeships in the recent Autumn Budget is welcome news.

However, the education sector cannot bear sole responsibility for dealing with the skills shortage. The tech sector must recognise the employee prospects available from a wider talent pool and tech businesses must provide early career support to help workers enter the industry. Organisations should capitalise on the government initiatives and funding available to play their part in solving the skills gap.

Why is there a skills gap? 

The UK tech skills gap has been an issue long in the making. Since 2015, the number of children taking up IT as a subject for their GCSEs has dropped by 40%, according to The Learning and Work Institute. Lack of interest in technology early on in education is translating into fewer young people pursuing a career in tech.

Part of the problem is that individuals who wish to embark on a career in tech later on in their education or in their working lives lack the opportunities to do so. Many organisations remain rigid in their hiring approach, only recognising certain career paths, experience, or qualifications as appropriate for a given tech role.

A lack of relevant role models encouraging young people into tech is another part of the problem. In lower socio-economic communities where the chances of achieving the required higher-level qualifications are already diminished, young people may be further deterred from aiming to work in tech if they lack inspiration in their immediate world. A lack of role models also perpetuates male dominance in the tech sector.

Educational reform

The Chancellor is clearly aware of the need for educational reform to address the skills shortage. The announcement of funding for T-Levels and apprenticeships in the Autumn Budget is welcome as it will provide viable educational alternatives for individuals seeking a career in tech. Currently, the traditional A-Level-to-university pathway is not fulfilling the employment requirements of the UK’s tech sector.

Early career support

While funding of alternative educational qualifications forms part of an effective long-term solution, the skills shortage is a pressing issue affecting many businesses today. Thus, as well as overhauling the education system, more early career support is needed to encourage those who have completed their education into the industry. The private sector needs to play its part by taking advantage of the schemes available to support young people into tech roles.

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The government’s Kickstart Scheme, which Ensono signed up to earlier this year, is a great example of an initiative employers can get involved in. Aimed at 16-to-24 year olds on Universal Credit, the scheme provides funding for employers to train participants over a six month period. At Ensono, we have individuals training in a variety of roles from technical to sales. With the experience and training gained during the scheme, participants are more likely to find full time employment.

Apprenticeships are another way to provide more varied pathways into tech. Ensono has partnered with Leeds University for its apprenticeship scheme. In September, we took on a group of apprentices who work for Ensono four days a week alongside completing their degree studies. They will complete the programme with a full university degree as well as industry experience to help kickstart their careers.

The role of private businesses

In the face of severe talent shortages, businesses need to reimagine their recruitment processes. Instead of formulating their job requirements on outdated measures, such as three-year university degrees or five years of experience in a programming language, employers need to recognise the validity of alternative experiences in coding and qualifications such as apprenticeships.

Businesses can also help inspire the next generation of talent. Our team at Ensono is involved with the Your Future, Your Ambition (YFYA) initiative, which introduces young people to STEAM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering, and the Arts Maths). Students can get involved in competitions and workshops, gaining first-hand experience in solving client problems and driving innovation.

Ultimately, positive actions such as these will not only help shrink the talent gap, they will also broaden the diversity of recruits, enriching the tech workforce with more varied perspectives and life experiences. Ensono recently signed the Microsoft Partner Pledge, committing us to help address challenges such as the digital skills shortage and the lack of diversity in the workforce. It’s critical for businesses to hold themselves to account to ensure progress is made in this area. If private businesses play their part, the sector has a bright future ahead.

By Hannah Birch, Managing Director, Europe at Ensono

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