Front view of diverse business people looking at camera while working together at conference room in a modern office

By Hannah Birch, Managing Director, Europe at Ensono

The UK is facing an ongoing shortage of skilled tech talent. Expanding educational opportunities in tech, especially for those from disadvantaged backgrounds and underrepresented groups, is one crucial way to tackle this crisis.

Supporting such talent into tech will not only help to close the skills gap, but it will also bring fresh perspectives and diversity of thought to the sector, helping to drive innovation and creativity.

The education sector and the government have a role to play here, but businesses in the tech industry can also make a real difference. It is the responsibility of tech companies to support the development of tech talent through various means. This includes participation in schemes and programmes that help provide people with the necessary skills and experience to pursue a career in tech, such as the government’s Kickstart Scheme, which Ensono joined earlier in 2021.

It starts with education

While the current skills shortage cannot be attributed to just one cause, a lack of interest in tech careers early on in individuals’ education is creating problems further down the talent pipeline. Between 2015 and 2020, the number of school learners taking IT-related subjects at GCSE dropped by 40%, according to research conducted by The Learning and Work Institute.

The nature of the UK’s education system means students who don’t commit to a career in tech from a relatively young age often face barriers if they choose to enter the sector later on. This is compounded by the attitude of organisations within the sector, many of which remain rigid in their hiring processes, expecting prospective employees to have followed a specific career path.

This system of education and hiring penalises those from underrepresented and disadvantaged backgrounds. In particular, individuals from lower socio-economic communities, where the chances of achieving the required higher-level qualifications can be diminished, lose out on opportunities to pursue a tech career.

Creating alternative career pathways

Educational reform is needed to provide a greater variety of routes into a tech career. The Chancellor made some promising announcements to this effect in the recent Autumn Budget, laying out planned funding for T-Levels and apprenticeships. These alternatives to traditional educational pathways will be an important part of the solution to the tech skills shortage.

As well as reform in education, more early-career support is crucial. This is where the private sector can make a real difference. Companies must ensure they take advantage of the government schemes available that enable businesses to support people into new tech roles.

The government’s Kickstart Scheme, as one example, is aimed at 16-to-24 year olds who rely on Universal Credit. Kickstart provides funding for businesses to train participants over a six-month period. Those who partake in the scheme are more likely to find employment, having gained relevant experience and training.

Apprenticeships are another avenue for the young work force to get into tech. For its apprenticeship scheme, Ensono partnered with Leeds University, taking on a group of students who work for Ensono four days a week while completing their studies. The group will finish the programme with a full degree and industry experience.

Implementing a culture change

Participating in training schemes is important, but businesses need to go further to attract and retain diverse talent. Employers need to accept alternative qualifications and move away from traditional tech hiring practices. They also need to demonstrate their commitment to an inclusive culture, in which all individuals feel valued and supported.

Businesses can also play a part in developing role models that attract young people to careers in tech. For the third year in a row, Ensono is participating in Your Future, Your Ambition (YFYA), which aims to attract young people towards STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Arts Maths) careers. Other initiatives such as Future Frontiers allow employees to become mentors to Sixth Form students, providing them with advice about career choices. Through such programmes, businesses directly inspire young people from all backgrounds and encourage them to pursue a career in tech.

Looking ahead

Businesses have a responsibility to act to help shrink the tech skills gap. Addressing the problem involves significant challenges, but it also presents an opportunity for the sector. The provision of more training opportunities and the re-assessment of hiring practices are all positive actions that serve to broaden the diversity of recruits. This will only enrich the tech workforce, bringing fresh perspectives and challenges to the status quo – both vital ingredients for progress and innovation.

About the author

Hannah BirchWith over two decades experience in the IT industry, Hannah brings a wealth of experience in leading technology and transformation activities to Ensono. Before joining Ensono, Hannah spent over a decade at Accenture as Managing Director in Technology. At Accenture, her role included responsibilities for heading up its Insurance Practice for Technology and on the Technology Leadership Team for UK & Ireland. Throughout her career she has particularly built up extensive experience working with multinationals across the Insurance and Energy Sector. Prior to her roles at Accenture, Hannah held Leadership positions at both Computacenter and Fujitsu Services UK.