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Filling the technology skills gap: Where should we start?

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This trend has grown worse over the last five years. Digital businesses are struggling to find new techies who are ready to hit the ground running in the workplace, and are no happier with the alternative: techies with decades of experience, often specialised in one particular programming language but out of date with latest developments.

We face this challenge every time we set out to recruit a web developer at Lenstore. The few candidates who meet our requirements for coding ability are fiercely sought by tens of other companies: securing them or losing them to more attractive job offers is often a matter of seconds.

Eventually, when the well of skilled developers dries out, even companies with fantastic digital recruitment brands (I know a technology business that runs Saturday night hackathons simply to be talked about on developer forums as a “cool” place for a developer to work) struggle to find people who can keep up with their need for innovation.

All this suggests that the solution to the skills gap is developing the talent we can access, rather than obsessing over the ideal candidate we may never get to meet: deciding how to recruit and coach the many programmers who don’t fit the bill perfectly, but show potential to succeed in the long run, into our business. That’s the real business of technology recruitment today.

However well-intentioned, the government’s plan of updating the academic curriculum to reflect emerging technologies is not the answer. The technology sector is driven by a pace of change that moves faster than the education system ever could (remember how long it took to incorporate the change from imperial to metric into curriculums?).

The solution may be combining the strengths of classrooms and workplaces, enabling the latter to facilitate what the former cannot deliver. Harnessing and combining the skills and knowledge that both work and study can provide is the way forward for UK technology, and the very purpose of apprenticeship schemes. Still, the uptake of apprenticeships remains low, despite the many calls to action from policymakers and industry experts.

My current theory on why this happens is that apprenticeship schemes deliver a long term payback and many real businesses are concerned with this year’s profit targets.

According to some research from the clever people at PwC, two thirds of UK leaders see the talent mismatch as the greatest threat to business growth, but only a third consider addressing it a top investment priority for the year ahead: a rather bleak prospect, considering that long-term success begins with immediate planning, and continues with ongoing, consistent efforts.

Our approach at Lenstore is replicable and perhaps helpful to other businesses trying to solve the skills gap issue in UK technology – recruit people with coding potential who are motivated by the prospect of working in a real business (not just a technology support office) and combine learning by doing with coaching by a senior technologist who loves mentoring (our head of technology used to be an English teacher). The odd conference or training course is great but the real business is to find a techie with potential and help that person realise that potential. Tough job that but it’s real business.

Mitesh Patel is a co-founder of Lenstore 

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