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Playing the long game: the answer to the IT skills crisis

Written by Holly Woodward, Cybersecurity Technician, Kyndryl

A staggering 800,000 technician and apprentice roles are estimated to be in demand right now in the UK – a figure that shows no sign of diminishing as the technologies which drive businesses’ core operations continue to evolve rapidly. Filling these roles is crucial to boosting economic growth and unlocking meaningful innovations in society, yet the lack of momentum is leaving the IT industry open to losing trillions by the end of the decade. And it’s not just technical skills that are becoming increasingly sought after – digital competency more widely is now at the core of most jobs, regardless of the sector.

At a time when businesses are facing such a momentous skills gap, it can be difficult to think beyond just plugging the most pressing challenges. Battling it out with the competition to hire IT talent or using pricey contractors may seem like the only options in times of crisis, but how can businesses stop it becoming a race to the bottom and truly move forward?

A change of tactics is needed to realise the industry’s full potential, and that includes addressing the heart of the problem: the shortage of individuals setting out to build a career in IT.

Widening the pool of talent

If you consider what a skill really is, it becomes clear that quick fixes and short-term efforts alone aren’t sustainable. A skill is not something that we’re born with or can instantly pick up. It takes time, it’s learned, and it needs to be nurtured with ongoing dedication in order to develop knowledge that can be put to powerful use. Therefore, while reskilling or upskilling current employees is important for helping businesses expand workforce capabilities, unless it’s pursued consistently it will likely only act as a plaster over the problem of a lack of people joining the profession.

Building the IT skills of tomorrow demands that businesses play the long game if their strategy is to be successful. This means motivating young people to consider a career in the sector by educating them about diverse opportunities on offer beyond the office – whether it’s the potential to make a life-saving vaccine or become instrumental in working behind the scenes at a music festival.

There’s so much more on offer than the 9-5 work many might expect, and students need exposure to what’s possible before they can develop and nurture the right skills to get there. Exceptional IT skills, after all, are a finely-tuned balance of scientific, engineering or technological knowledge together with characteristics such as critical thinking and a keen attention to detail which are acquired and empower them to contribute so much value to an organisation.

Planting the seeds of knowledge

To build better awareness of IT careers, as well as the wider technology industry developments, we need to acknowledge the role of parents in tackling the skills gap. It’s no coincidence that research from Gatsby revealed that many parents (40%) don’t understand what a technician is, and that two-thirds say their child has expressed an interest in a future career they know little about. This isn’t for lack of support from parents: rather, it’s an outcome of an industry that’s rapidly and constantly developing.

After all, many roles in the sector today were non-existent when parents today were embarking on their own careers.

Overcoming this issue relies on implementing initiatives to grow parents’ knowledge of career routes, so that they are able to help their children navigate the tides of the technology landscape. As key influencers in their career choices, when equipped with the right knowledge parents can create the building blocks of future technicians by inspiring them with the latest developments.

Organisations have the potential to make an impact here too. By investing in initiatives to make IT careers guidance more accessible and readily available, they are likely to see the fruits of their efforts later. In addition, offering IT and digital apprenticeships to young people will help to educate future digital professionals, but also allow organisations to benefit from the fresh thoughts, ideas, and perspectives that young people bring to their business – helping to find new solutions to old problems.

As more young people get exposure to the possibilities of the industry, businesses will be able to build awareness of their company, and over time, begin to see a consistent flow of candidates entering the field. Rather than going through the motions of temporary fixes for IT friction in their operations, organisations have the opportunity to build talent from within and become more resilient to future challenges.

The fresh perspectives of young people are central to invigorating both economic and business growth, but it’s important not to overlook the role of current employees. In the drive to tackle skills gaps, creating a culture that puts employees at its heart will continue to be crucial to retaining talent and delivering customer value. Nurturing exceptional individuals within existing teams and getting them accredited and skilled in key technologies, as well as investing in a pipeline of future talent, will prove the most powerful strategy.

It’s not too late to start addressing the IT skills shortage from the source of the issue, but it demands that we think differently about nurturing a diverse workforce for tomorrow.