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Is Covid-19 closing the technology skills gap?

The pandemic has prompted many non-technology employees to consider a career in the field, according to a survey of UK workers. Might this relieve the widespread shortage in technology skills?

The long-lamented technology skills gap may be closing as a result of Covid-19, according to a new UK-based study.

The dearth of candidates with the technology skills that businesses need is a common complaint among employers around the world. But a survey of more than 2,000 workers by IT recruitment website CWJobs found the majority (56%) of non-tech workers surveyed are considering a career change and more than half of those (55%) are considering a technology role.

Job security, pay and technology’s contribution to the economy are attracting career changers. (Photo by Dmytro Zinkevych / Shutterstock)

The most common reasons for non-tech workers considering a career to the sector included expectations of more interesting work, the industry’s key role within the economy, and greater job security.

Meanwhile, workers both in and outside the sector have been brushing up on their technology skills. Half of the workers surveyed had taken an online technology-related course in the past 12 months, and 12% said this had been prompted by the pandemic.

“It’s great to see from the report that non-IT talent are now seeing technology as an interesting option that can bring security and the ability to learn,” Natalie Whittlesey of recruitment consultancy Korn Ferry told Tech Monitor. “Instead of seeing a career in tech as for the ‘geeks’, technology roles are perceived as highly attractive and able to impact businesses across all industries significantly.”

The widening technology skills gap

This renewed focus on IT as a career path has the potential to bridge what until now has been a widening tech skills gap.

The European Commission has consistently warned of a deficit of technology skills in Europe. In a paper published earlier this year, the commission described a “continuous shortage” of ICT professionals and university graduates in areas including AI, cybersecurity and software engineering. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of large enterprises in Europe struggled to fill ICT-related roles in 2018, according to an EU study.

In the UK, the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) reported a 40% decline between 2015-2020 in GCSE and A-level students taking ICT or computing qualifications.

On a global level, the tech skills gap is more acute among emerging professions, including data analysts and scientists, AI and machine learning specialists, software developers and other technical roles.

An influx of career-changers could help employers address these shortages, as long as they are open-minded, says Dominic Harvey, director of CWJobs. “CIOs and senior leaders must be open to welcoming individuals from outside of the tech industry into tech, taking into consideration the valuable transferable soft-skills they can bring.”

Whittlesey advises technology leaders to consider the potential of people from non-tech backgrounds, even from within their own organisations. “As well as looking at the external talent pool, there are already countless examples of leaders spotting potential from the non-tech talent pool in their existing businesses,” she says.

“When their businesses are undergoing restructuring, tech leaders shouldn’t miss the opportunity to look into the business areas effected, identify people with transferrable skills and the ability to learn, and offer a transitional path toward a career in tech.”

She adds that an influx of talent from other sectors might also help to address the technology industry’s notorious diversity failings. Female IT executives, she says, often start their careers in other fields.

“Rather than setting out to move into tech, women often side-stepped into technology after they realised they had the right abilities after being exposed to a tech project of some sort,” she explains. “Just this week, I took a reference from a business leader who said he spotted the potential of a now very senior tech executive early in her career when she worked in sales. Recruiting based on aptitude clearly works.”

Looking overseas to close the skills gap

Encouraging non-tech workers to join the sector is not the only way Covid-19 is impacting the market for technology talent, however. Earlier this week, economist Carl Benedikt Frey told Tech Monitor the widespread shift to home working in response to the pandemic may trigger a new wave of offshore outsourcing. “Jobs that can be done remotely can also be done offshore,” he warned.

Since many technology roles can be performed remotely, global employers could be tempted to move them to low-wage countries with more digitally skilled populations as tough economic conditions persist.

Korn Ferry’s Whittlesey argues that businesses should keep a healthy balance between overseas and local talent. “There’s a place for offshore resource, onshore partner-based alliances and inhouse technology teams,” she explains. “Of course, there are fantastic tech hubs across Asia and Eastern Europe and elsewhere where skills can be leveraged offshore, but we see these supplemented by teams onshore too. Business-facing technology roles, as well as senior, managerial or strategic leadership posts, are those most likely to be onshore, even in a remote-working world.”