Opinion

Are we facing an IT skills shortage?

4 min read

24 November 2015

Simon Best, CTO of BaseKit, addresses the issue of IT skills shortages and suggests that early education has an important role to play in order to ensure the UK doesn’t fall behind.

The shortage of skilled IT professionals in the UK is worrying. The industry has always suffered a shortfall with most organisations experiencing difficulties in getting the right mix of skills. 

Given that technology hiring is on an upward trajectory, with employment within the industry forecast to grow at 2.19 per cent in 2015 according to e-skills.com, the shortage of skills is clearly of concern. Where are these skilled professionals going to come from? 

Short term fixes

Many companies are quick to patch shortages with existing IT staff whose skills may not be quite right for specific areas. Security for example, is a big issue that’s becoming more prominent. The steady flow of network breaches can in some senses be attributed to this lack of specialised security skills. 

Aside from the need for network security and data security skills, there is also an increasing need for data architects, software developers and development managers. While the need for security skills will be consistent, other needs change according to industry developments. 

In the past, the industry has recruited from overseas, however, it can be argued that the government’s immigration crackdown has put off highly skilled workers across the world from coming to Britain. Not so long ago the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford revealed that the flow of highly skilled migrants coming to the UK from outside Europe decreased by more than a third between 2011 and 2013

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Transformative training

There are a number of ways skill shortages can be addressed including taking graduates from other disciplines and retraining them. IT can unfortunately have a dull and unexciting image that may put people off, therefore it’s up to the industry to challenge this. 

Take security for instance, it’s certainly not dull and uninteresting. It’s a frontline role that even law enforcement can’t keep up with. A good security professional recognises the scale and depth of the threat; defending against organised crime, lone wolf hackers and possibly even state-sponsored threats.

Revolutions

While IT is a disruptive technology, it undeniably brings profound advancement. It’s changing so many industries for the better, whether it’s travel, hospitality or finance. Not so long ago the world of finance was a closed shop yet technology has made the industry wide-open. Anyone can now do what a stockbroker does, albeit on a smaller scale.

It’s true to say that IT has driven a revolution. Even the transition brought about by the industrial revolution was over an 80 year period. In contrast, new technology developments can transform in just a handful of years. 

Young minds

It’s important that society recognises the need for technology skills to be developed at an early age. The educational system and government certainly have a responsibility in delivering these skills. 

We have to capture and excite young minds with ideas that engage them; what technology can do, its implications and the changes it brings. If we don’t embed IT skills at the earliest stages of education we’ll always have a skills shortage and the gap between the UK economy and the rest of Europe will keep getting bigger.

Simon Best is CTO of BaseKit.