The Great Skills Exodus

The Great Skills Exodus
The Great Skills Exodus

UK businesses are failing to prioritise IT and risk losing IT talent as a result. This was the message from global tech company EMC at a roundtable event on the ‘Great Skills Exodus’ held recently in London.

EMC’s survey of 500 IT and cybersecurity workers in the UK and Ireland found that 71% have looked for a job elsewhere, with almost half (49%) highlighting restrictions on career progression as a key driver. Across many industries the report also highlighted that a lack of career progression outweighed a poor pay package as the priority for considering alternative roles. This potential staff churn significantly threatens the growth of UK firms as they increasingly focus on technology to compete and innovate.

The study reveals the key factors driving IT workers to actively look outside of their current organisation for a new role. Company culture is highlighted as a barrier for many, with 26% sighting their organisation as unwilling to change the way that ‘things have always been done’, 23% revealing a lack of understanding of IT’s role, and nearly a third (30%) stating that there are few opportunities to demonstrate their ability.

During the panel discussion, techUK head of policy Charlotte Holloway emphasised the importance for individuals to gain digital skills to plug the current IT gap. SME caught up with her after the roundtable to discuss the idea of apprenticeships as a skills gap solution in greater detail…

How should the apprenticeship levy be used to address the skills gap?

The apprenticeship levy will be 0.5% of payroll for companies with over £3m payroll, and I think it’s important to say that because given the high average earnings in the tech sector – a recent Tech Nation report suggested it was around £50,000, actually you’re finding companies with a 50, 60 person organisation are going to be in the scope of the levy.

Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy Ed Vaizey has said that he wants digital to be a component of all apprenticeships, which I think is fantastic. I think the big challenge is going to be who the providers are going to be, are there enough providers how are we going to reach the scale of that? The tech sector hasn’t traditionally been a huge utiliser of the apprenticeship model compared to other parts of the economy but the message that I’m hearing is that companies know they have to step up and they want to be thinking now about how those apprentices can be geared for jobs of the future. It’s not about low skill low quality work but actually its part of the UK’s ongoing success in the digital economy.

How do we verify that a provider is offering a good enough service?

There are certainly a number of big issues around that. There is the mechanism of whether a provider is ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ etc. and it’s important to make sure that the definitions keep pace with the change of skills. Are you building in that change mind-set and digital mind-set, that’s really important.

One of the things we were looking at recently in the context of London was how could the number of apprenticeships that need to be created when the providers aren’t out there at the moment? I think there are big questions around that. Particularly for tech companies, what does in-house training look like for apprenticeships? This is something I’m hearing from companies of all sizes actually not just the larger guys like Accenture and HP and others. Businesses think, hang on, if I’ve got my own particular type of learning how can I do that in-house and how do I work with those bodies to ensure that I use my voucher in the best way possible for my company?

How do we get girls engaged?

This questions drives right across STEM in a way, our view is you’ve got to be tackling this stuff right from primary, a very early age. A lot of research shows that perceptions are formed about certain types of subjects. If you’re not talking to girls about why they’re really exciting professions in the industry by age 8 or ten it makes it increasingly unlikely that they will then pursue jobs or subjects in that area.

But I think it’s also about that transferability as well, you can be looking in a particular area that may not appear as tech per se, but to be effective in it you need to have that savviness, that understanding of it. You know, what does cyber security look like? What’s digital marketing? All these newer traits that are actually becoming very mainstream, awareness of how these are joined up in that learning from a very early age. That’s why I think the computer curriculum if we get it right will be really important.