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How IT contractors can help solve the UK tech skills crisis

Written by Zeeshan Anwar, Group Compliance Manager at Contractor Umbrella and board member of the FCSA

In recent years, it has become clear that the UK is suffering a crisis in skills, with many highly skilled workers retiring and a lack of younger talent ready to take over. The skills gap is very acutely felt in the IT sector, where there is a particular shortage of workers with the necessary technological skills. Leaders in digital fields across the world are facing recruitment issues and talent shortages, and the best prospective employees are highly sought after. 

Research carried out by recruitment consultancy Robert Walters – in conjunction with online recruitment specialists Totaljobs and Jobsite – confirmed that over 50% of technology employers feel that candidates for IT roles lack necessary skills. More than a quarter have noticed that they are having to compete for the best candidates, who receive multiple job offers. Of the technology professionals surveyed, 56% named cybersecurity and 41% Business Intelligence and data management as the most in-demand skills.

76% of IT decision makers experience critical skills gaps in their team

Technological education company Skillsoft’s 2021 Global Knowledge IT Skills and Salary Report included eye-opening evidence of the IT skills shortage, showing that more than three quarters of employers in the sector were facing serious difficulties in recruitment. This represents a 146% increase since 2016. This year, 54% of IT decision makers reported a lack of success in filling at least one vacant position, and 38% were trying to recruit for three or more empty posts. As a result of this highly competitive market, those with the most highly demanded skills, such as cybersecurity and cloud computing, can currently command very high salaries. 

So how can the UK confront this problem? What are the solutions which will help develop a strong talent pool and match up businesses with suitable candidates?

How we can solve the IT skills crisis

Investing in IT skills training

Crucial to securing the future success of the technology industry will be the development of new talent. Investment from both the public and private sector in IT skills training for younger people is a vital long-term solution for ensuring that the talent shortage does not continue indefinitely. Providing opportunities for further training and professional development will also be a major draw for candidates who are keen to progress their careers, and can give companies a serious edge when competing for the best talent. The Skillsoft report also showed that nearly 40% of IT employers are not providing formal training opportunities for their employees. Equally worryingly, of those who left the industry in the last year, 59% cited a lack of training and development opportunities as a significant reason for doing so. If companies want to attract, retain and create top IT talent, this will need to change. 

Employing contractors

Employers would also benefit from being open to hiring contractors and freelancers to do technology-related work for them. The whole country has seen how the Covid-19 pandemic generated huge enthusiasm for more flexible working patterns, and also many people wanting to become self-employed or shake up their work routines. There is a significant pool of talented IT contractors in the UK, and hiring a contractor on a shorter term basis allows you to tap into that talent. It can be a much more cost-effective means of finding talent than trying to recruit someone for a permanent position. 

Improving benefits for employees

The opportunity to work part-time, remotely or more flexibly is very attractive to many people, so using contractors can enable an employer to attract candidates who might not otherwise have been interested. Employers can look out for contractors who work with an umbrella company, who will deal with administrative and accounting matters. For businesses, the presence of a fully compliant umbrella company provides reassurance that all legal obligations and processes are fulfilled. 

Offering high salaries to IT professionals may work as a short-term strategy for attracting the most skilled candidates to your company. However, employers in the technology sector will need a more comprehensive and multi-faceted solution to retain staff and ensure that the next generation of technology experts have the skills they need in the long term. 

Encouraging under-represented groups in the IT industry

They will also need to encourage those from groups currently under-represented in the industry to get involved. This especially applies to women, since currently about 70% of IT roles are held by men, according to the Office of National Statistics. Hiring contractors can allow companies to access extremely talented IT professionals who are looking for more independence and flexibility. Taking the long view, investment in training and development will ensure the future of the workforce in the technology sector.