It’s becoming abundantly clear that there needs to be a shift in the way the technology sector operates to encourage fresh talent into the industry. But, what can be done?
It’s no secret that IT education in the UK is lacking in consistency. The quality of tech education seems to come down to a postcode lottery, where students attending schools or colleges with the resources or access to qualified and experienced teachers achieve greater success.
This is part of the reason that the UK Government is introducing a new qualification for technical education, called T-levels. In his autumn 2017 budget announcement, Chancellor Hammond said that the aim is to overcome “a lingering doubt about the parity of esteem attaching to technical education pursued through the further education route”.
This will see an increase in the number of hours of training for 16 to 19–year-olds on technical courses by more than 50 per cent, including the completion of a high-quality industry work placement during the programme. This will come into effect in 2019 and there will be over £500m of funding to be invested each year.
Standardising the quality of education is intended to close the nation’s productivity gap. To use the Chancellor’s own words, “Simply put, higher productivity means higher pay. The stats are well known. We are 35 per cent behind Germany and 18 per cent behind the G7 average. And the gap is not closing”.
However, businesses will still struggle to recruit the most skilled software and infrastructure engineers if the IT industry doesn’t move away from a legacy system that relies on office-based working.
Unless IT graduates are based in influential areas like Reading, London, Cambridge or Manchester, they have to relocate to find employment. This is simply a fact.
The IT sector is still operating on the rigid, office-based, model that is restricting both the talent pool and businesses. Large corporations, such as Microsoft and Oracle, historically set up headquarters in key UK places like London and Reading, and the draw of being close to such core players in the industry meant the rest of the sector followed.
This was, of course, long before the advent of the cloud. Now, any office job can be done remotely and it’s time the IT sector made the most of the benefits this can bring.
Money, money, money
While there are obvious benefits for graduates seeking opportunities if they no longer need to relocate for work, businesses stand to gain too.
In November 2017, The Telegraph reported that demand for cyber security and IT staff was outstripping supply. As a result, information analysts in the sector saw salaries rise by 10.5 per cent. In the same article, it was stated that unemployment was at a 42–year low of 4.3 per cent. Given that 59 per cent of firms reported difficulties finding the right workers, this is demonstrable evidence that the shortage of skilled staff is negatively impacting the business.
Having to battle to attract the most skilled workers, and pay more for them, will bring the sector to halt sooner or later. However, if you can draw on talent from anywhere in the country, you are much more likely to find the skills your business needs. In addition, you can hire people located in areas where the cost of living is much lower, reducing salary expectations.
It’s time for a change in mentality. The IT sector must adjust its thinking at a management level for the industry to move away from the out-dated and restrictive office format.
Businesses should invest in training for their management teams to give them the tools to appreciate that a remote workforce has different management requirements and will fail if there is a strict nine-to-five framework enforced.
Currently, remote working is viewed as something that happened in addition to work done at the office. However, the limits of the office walls need to be eliminated.
It’s time to broaden the talent pool and give those taking advantage of the renewed investment in technology education a chance to build a career without the upheaval of relocation. The IT sector should be leading the charge in upgrading the nation from the legacy office model to a new way of working.
Jarek Grzeskowiak is delivery lead for Microsoft recruitment partner Curo Talent.