3 August 2022

“A digital skills shortage disaster”

In March 2021, the BBC’s tech pages reported something that was already evident to IT recruiters, although the Beeb did hype it up a bit under a headline that read, “UK ‘heading towards a digital skills shortage disaster.’”  This article was based on two reports: one from The Learning & Work Institute which said the number of young people taking IT subjects at GCSE in England and Wales had dropped 40% since 2015 and the other, from consulting giant Accenture, which noted the soaring demand for AI, cloud and robotics skills.

Regular readers of our blog will know that Be-IT has been way ahead of the curve here; writing over the years about school-kids’ lack of enthusiasm for IT at secondary (and, subsequently, tertiary) education levels. However, the BBC was not wrong a year ago and they are not wrong today when they report, just a few days ago, that not only is the skills shortage getting worse but it is also threatening to stifle economic growth.

Now admittedly, there are a lot of other things stifling economic growth at the moment, but the fact remains that Tech Nation’s recent People and Skills Report 2022, using data from job aggregator Adzuna (who provide the ONS with their stats and are therefore a reliable source) shows clearly the extent of the problem.  Adzuna’s stats record that IT jobs now make up 14% of all sits vac opportunities in the UK. This is up from 11% in 2019, with the 870,000 tech and digital job vacancies available between January to May 2022 being the highest number ever recorded since data were first collected, in May 2012. Software developers continue to remain the most in-demand by companies, with a strong growth also in security roles. However, in our experience at Be-IT over the first seven months of this year, you could include almost any type of IT role in the ‘high demand’ category.

With all the problems facing the world at the moment, the immediate shortage of IT skills is probably not quite at the top of most government ministers’ in-trays. However, with the Conservatives currently playing party games as they choose their next leader (and our next PM), maximising the benefits of technology is one of the many things that will have to be tackled.

To that end, it’s dispiriting in the extreme to see quotes from (current) government ministers that are mere political posturing.  For example, in the report I read on the Tech Nation website, Digital Secretary Nadine Dorries is quoted as saying: “The UK is enjoying a golden age in tech. Not only are we one of the best places in the world to start digital businesses, but there are countless opportunities for people to enter the sector and flourish in their career. We’re working hard to open doors for people from all walks of life so that they can gain the skills and knowledge needed to make the most of our booming tech industry.”

Well, yes… that’s all true, but I’d like to see Ms Dorries take a desk in our Be-IT Projects team and see if she is quite so blasé after a few days at the coalface.  As we’ve said ad nauseam in our blogs over the years, the secondary sector is failing to provoke sufficient interest in tech, especially for girls.  Add in the fact that not enough of our university courses produce the calibre and type of techies that industry needs and it’s no wonder we see headlines like the one at the top of this blog.  And yes, the BBC is right: it will stifle growth, it will leave us at danger of being left behind in defence in an increasingly dangerous world and, while it is most definitely up to individuals to create start-ups and grow them into businesses that will help the country escape its current economic difficulties, it is up to governments (in Scotland as well as England) to provide the structure and teachers to channel through the next generation of techies – and to help create more organisations (like CodeClan) to help re-train people into IT jobs. Currently, it’s the most difficult IT jobs market anyone at Be-IT has experienced. There is a lot more than could be (and needs to be) done by governments and others to educate and train more people to work in technology.

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