UK tech recruitment: Turn on the talent

The hottest tech skills will always be in short supply and UK businesses increasingly struggle to find competent people to fill digital roles. But do companies’ approach to recruitment need to change?

Technology recruitment across the UK is buoyant. As more firms plough forward with fundamental digital transformation, they are seeking a broad range of tech skills – especially in the “hot” digital areas such as big data analysis, cyber security, artificial intelligence (AI), cl....

Competition for these in-demand skills is high, and salaries are rising to reflect this. But candidates applying for these roles don’t always meet companies’ expectations. Often, they don’t have the requisite soft skills. Other times, they may have the right qualifications but lack sufficient experience to be entrusted with critical digital transformation projects.

Brian Kropp, HR practice leader at CEB, a tech research and advisory division of global analyst Gartner, says: “There are several challenges emerging. Companies hiring tend to focus exclusively on the technical skillse.... However, the biggest skill gap among technical staff is the ability to collaborate. As more and more work becomes cross-functional, as silos break down, the ability to collaborate has become the key differentiator of high-performing organisations.” Yet he notes most companies’ recruiting strategy is based on whether or not candidates have achieved a particular certi.... “This approach artificially limits the size of the pool available to organisations. Instead, the best companies now focus more on testing for and developing specific capabilities.

Education systems, meanwhile, need to rethink their approach to make sure they are building the skills and capabilities organisations need, not simply providing certifications of activities accomplished,” he says.

Katie Gallagher, managing director of independent trade association Manchester Digital, which represents more than 500 businesses in the north-west and has recently published a report on digital skills in the UK, agrees action is required to stem the shortage. “Here in Manchester, for example, three years ago only a handful of companies were recruiting for data scientist roles. This year, there are hundreds of vacancies for data scientists across the region – vacancies which we currently do not have the right people to fill,” she says. Gallagher believes there needs to be a concerted effort to build more partnerships between industry and academia to ensure candidates have the right skills, including critical thinking, problem solving and a genuine understanding of the collaboration and teamwork required to thrive .... “Professionals from the tech sector need to become more involved in the classroom itself – helping to teach and shape the next generation of digital talent,” she says.

But she agrees the UK’s tech skills challenge is far broader, and any solution will need to be multi-pronged. “The issues largely revolve around an overall lack of joined-up thinking around education, poor government policy and a lack of investment in the scalable solutions that will deliver the real, meaningful change we need. As long as our politicians continue to use education as a political football to score cheap points and bump up their approval ratings, we cannot rely on them to instigate that change,” says Gallagher.

“More flexibility is also needed from our universities and the courses they offer. Nobody can say with certainty how the future working landscape will look, and the skills required for employment are constantly changing,” she adds. David Barker, founder and technical director at cloud provider 4D Data Centres, believes Brexit could make the skills shortage even more acute. “Quarter on quarter (Q1 2016 to Q1 2017) there was a 10% reduction in applications from the EU continent for roles in the UK digital economy. According to data from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, the sector relies on EU citizens to fill around 180,000 jobs – about a fifth of all tech jobs in London. By 2020, it is expected that the UK will have more than 750,000 new digital jobs and will need to train nearly 2.3 million people to meet the demand,” he says.

Look beyond formal training

While he welcomes recent efforts to encourage coding in schools from the age of five, he notes we won’t feel the benefits of such initiatives for at least another 15 years. Barker believes this means firms must relax their traditional requirements for formal qualifications – a strategy he’s been actively pursuing at 4D.

“If businesses want to ensure they get the best talent, they will need to consider people’s passion and self-taught skills, rather than requiring formal qualifications to even get through the door. A significant proportion of our engineers were self-taught when we interviewed them, and seeking people with a passion for technology is a major component of our hiring process at all levels,” he says.Alan Furley, director of Bristol-based ISL Recruitment, agrees. “The education system is not churning out the right kind of technologists, and it’s not going to any time soon. In large part that has been accepted by many employers.

Enlightened employers are now actively recruiting people without the precise skillsets they need, because they know finding such people will take too long – or won’t happen at all,” he says.Employers need to fill the gap with in-house training and academic outreach, Furley believes. “It would be a great time for business to become more involved with the education sector, to energise schools and students for the task of solving tomorrow’s problems – not yesterday’s.”

This post originally appeared on the ISL Recruitment blog.

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