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Overcoming the UK's shortage of tech talent

Addressing diversity and training is fundamental to recruiting skilled workers

The UK's tech community, as the 2018 Tech Nation report shows, continues to be remarkably upbeat about the growth prospects of their sector. As part of the Tech Nation survey, fully 69% of participants responded positively when asked about opportunities for digital firms to scale in their local area, while 70% said they expect the number of tech businesses in their community to rise over the next 12 months.

While the survey findings showcase the sector's positive outlook, they also throw sharp relief onto the challenges tech communities are facing, principal among which is access to talent. When asked about their ability to recruit skilled workers, only 24% of participants responded positively. Across the UK's major tech hubs, respondents in Leeds, Manchester and London were the most pessimistic about their ability to attract talented tech workers.

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The intensifying competition for tech talent  

The results of the Tech Nation survey underscore the severity of the talent shortage that many firms in the sector are facing. While employment in the tech sector has risen by 15% in the last five years, a dwindling supply of domestic techies and growing uncertainty around access to international talent means that firms of all sizes are struggling to source the developers, data scientists and cyber-security experts they need. According to a survey from Deloitte, 62% of UK business executives say that their tech talent pool doesn't have the capability they need to deliver their digital strategy.

Part of the reason for the squeeze on skills is that many of most sought after roles in tech are ones that have experienced exponential growth in demand over the last few years. Technologies like AI and deep learning, for instance, often appear in the press due to their potential to supersede the need for human labour. However, the reality is that these technologies are creating requirements for specialist skills that the labour market is struggling to supply. The number of AI-related jobs in the UK, according to figures from Indeed, has increased by 485% since 2014, with two jobs for every qualified job-seeker.

This has all led to intensifying competition for talent and, consequently, upwards pressure on tech salaries. Developers, data analysts, systems administrators and network engineers are all among the top 10 professions in line to receive the largest pay increases this year, according to figures from recruiter Robert Half. For start-ups, scale-ups and SMEs, rising salaries make it more difficult to recruit the talented individuals whose skills they rely on.

How tech communities can overcome the skills shortage

Overcoming the skills shortage will require both the broadening of the tech talent pool and the up-skilling of the workforce. Greater levels of diversity – especially encouraging more women to take up roles in tech – will help expand the pool of available workers.

In the Tech Nation survey, more than half of respondents were positive on the quality of education and training for those working in the tech sector in their local area. More efforts should be made to build on collaboration between tech firms and universities – indeed, many tech communities surveyed recognise the value of being close to universities, reporting it as one of the top strengths of their area.

As the competition for talent intensifies, tech firms should also be increasingly sensitive to the interplay between their location decisions and their ability to recruit skilled workers. The cities firms base themselves in, the precise locations of their offices, and the attractiveness of their work environments can all impact their ability to attract talented individuals. 

The positive sentiment expressed by the UK's tech community is testament to the incredible ambition and dynamism of the sector. However, realising these ambitions relies on efforts by all stakeholders to expand both the talent pool and skills base of workers in the UK.

This article was written by Owen King, Director of Occupier Research.