There were more than 64,000 vacancies for UK tech jobs in the third quarter of last year, according to the latest BCS State of the Nation report, released today. This is up by 191% on the same period in 2020.
Published annually by BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, the report looks at UK tech hiring, taking into account figures from the Office for National Statistics and job sites. Filling these vacancies is proving tricky, however, with the UK’s digital skills shortage meaning competition for qualified candidates is high. Greater investment in digital apprenticeships could be one solution, BCS says.
Why are there so many IT jobs available?
This dramatic increase in vacancies comes as the economy emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic, which brought with it some hiring freezes across the sector. Annette Allmark, BCS head of apprenticeships, says the demand was always there and recruitment of those roles was likely to resume once the pandemic was under control.
“Because of the type of profession we are, and the way IT businesses operate, in some respects they were able to continue during the pandemic,” she says. “So there might have been a freeze on recruitment [but] we weren’t hitting anywhere near the same degree of other sectors.”
Some of the demand was likely accelerated by the pandemic itself, Allmark says, with companies adapting to hybrid working models, and pushing forward with long-term transformation projects after being forced to adopt digital systems.
But the UK’s much-discussed digital skills shortage is slowing these projects. As reported by Tech Monitor, 67% of tech leaders polled last year by Harvey Nash said a lack of skilled staff was slowing their digital transformation schemes.
A separate report by WorldSkills, Learning and Work Institute and Enginuity from 2021 found that 76% of businesses "lacked the digital skills needed by their business".
UK tech jobs: companies across all sectors compete for talent
This means the spike in recruitment for tech jobs is not limited to tech companies themselves, Allmark says. “We talk about digital skills and think of the big techie companies, but I speak to managers working in health, retail and other industries and they tell me that people don’t apply for IT and techie jobs with them because they don’t think they have them," she says. "Every occupation has a digital touch point.”
The most in-demand tech jobs were developers, accounting for 23% of all vacancies, followed by analysts. However, the rise in vacancies was across the board and included IT operations and helpdesk staff, the BCS report reveals
The dramatic upturn has caused a problem with recruitment, something that has always been an issue, according to Amandine Le Pape, co-founder and COO of secure communications platform Element, who said hiring outstanding candidates is particularly challenging when you are looking for senior and lead software engineers and managers.
“Flexibility is now a baseline, not an option or a negotiable add on," says Le Pape. "Companies need to move away from ‘add-ons’ and focus on what they can offer that has an actual impact on employee experience.
She adds: “You have to prove you value potential employees as people, rather than business currency. For a company like us that is growing rapidly, it’s essential we show that we are committed to delivering this 21st-century people-centric approach to scaling.”
Can digital apprenticeships solve the skills shortage?
One of the main suggestions in the BCS report was for companies to invest in digital apprenticeships to ensure a future pool of talent that meets UK tech hiring demands. It appears a number of firms are already providing the required training to bring on new staff, with just over half a million tech specialists stating that they had received education, the report says.
The government has pledged to help in this by meeting 95% of the apprenticeship training costs, providing an enhanced recruitment service for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), helping them hire new apprentices and supporting flexible training models.
Allmark told Tech Monitor the most in-demand apprentices were those ready to train in “development, analytics, understanding data, and how that is used in AI”.
“Companies are recruiting at junior level and there is a recognition we need a talent pipeline and how we get that," she says. "It's why employers are looking at how they can engage in other approaches to ensure they can access that talent pipeline.”
Some of this can come from younger people leaving school, but it also comes from people looking to change careers later in life. Zoe Spilberg, BCS head of education, said providing properly resourced and funded further education, that meets the needs of lifelong learners is vital.
“We’re seeing recruitment and retention of staff in some areas in the UK being more of a challenge for providers than recruitment and retention of learners," Spilberg says. "There’s a lot of work to be done to ensure we reach a representative and diverse talent pool of prospective trainers and teachers to plug these vital gaps.”