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November 21, 2014

Is technology set for a brain drain of talent?

Michael Bennett, Rethink Group Managing Director, looks at how traditional tech firms may have to start competing for the best tech talent.

By Cbr Rolling Blog

It’s perhaps an understatement to say that the technology arena is experiencing a skills shortage, indeed, this is a well-documented fact. But, traditional tech firms – which have fostered some of the best talent over recent years – have arguably built the strongest database of skills to support on-going growth. In an arena that has driven innovative technology development, organisations, such as Apple, Samsung or Microsoft, have understandably been attractive places to work for expert professionals.

However, could these organisations be set to see a brain drain of talent to the sectors they service?

Cutting edge technology now plays a vital role in almost every industry. Indeed it would be difficult to find a business that isn’t heavily reliant on this element for day-to-day operations. Just take, for example, the retail industry which has seen a significant growth in demand for digital and mobile developments. In a multi-channel retail era, the most successful businesses are those able to integrate technology into the customer experience. In order to achieve this, the sector is looking to specialist talent that can often be found in traditional tech firms.

This trend isn’t limited to just a few sectors, though. Practically all industries are seeking these specialist skills, from the energy firms that are developing smart meters, to the education outlets that are introducing coding to the curriculum. In short, the technology professionals that are already in limited supply and have historically been attracted to traditional firms are now being lured elsewhere.

So just what are other sectors looking for from these professionals?

Many organisations are seeking general innovation experts to provide technological developments that support company growth, streamline process and ensure the business stays ahead of the competition. The technology arena is a rich source of these individuals, many of whom have been involved in new fields including 5G internet, near-field communication and connected environments that have sprung up over recent times. For professionals, the opportunities in other sectors will naturally be appealing due to the ability to drive new processes and have greater control over developments, not to mention the option to be highly creative.

There is also a real demand for specialist professionals able to support big data initiatives. A report from IT storage hardware solutions provider, EMC Corporation, for example, has suggested that a big data skills gap is holding many sectors back from further growth. Businesses in almost every industry are now seeking professionals able to make the most of company data and are looking to the technology arena for this expertise. This demand is so high that fields which would have had very little use for this information in the past – such as manufacturing – are now recognising its value and targeting technology professionals as a result.

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While traditional tech firms may have previously held top position for individuals looking to make their mark in the industry, this divergence of IT into other sectors has created vast opportunities that understandably have their own strong appeal. Professionals now have more options and, as such, can pick and choose the employment routes that best suit them. This includes not only the chance to work across a wider range of industries, but also the possibility to go down the contracting route that can often provide greater experiences and higher pay.

So, while technology firms are employing some of the most talented specialists around at the moment, they do run the risk of suffering from a brain drain should the demand for these expert professionals continue. And the problem is further compounded by the aforementioned fact that the UK is currently suffering from a skills shortage that has meant there are relatively few available specialists. Consequently, if expert technology talent is lost to other markets, then it will be particularly hard to fill their positions with an adequate replacement. But how can these businesses prevent their top talent from being stolen?

In the long term, initiatives such as developing more extensive apprenticeship schemes and robust talent pipelines will be beneficial. Engaging with potential talent at a stage in their education where they are making career relevant choices – pre-GSCE, for example – will also help to address the on-going skills gap that is so predominant at the moment.

However, these options will take time to really have an impact. Consequently, many businesses may have to be more creative with their employment offering in order to retain their top performers in the short term. Having the opportunity to work flexibly is one factor that is particularly appealing to the modern workforce and firms could consider offering this. Alternatively, they could provide other benefits in their corporate EVPs that encourage staff to stay such as having access to additional training and development opportunities or the chance to work internationally.

Obviously the very best high tech firms will still have the advantage of the latest tools, cutting edge technology and a variety of work that will attract the best talent, not to mention the benefit of location. After all, Silicon roundabout is the place to be. However, it can’t be denied that they will face increased competition for some of their best talent. Simply ignoring this issue could be detrimental to their own development.

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