group of young multiethnic diverse people gesture hand high five, laughing and smiling together in brainstorm meeting at office, company culture

Article by Steve Pinches, Senior VP Product, Hyve Group Plc 

As we tentatively enjoy our first few months without restrictions, it is interesting to look back over the last 18 months and see just how dramatically our business landscape has changed for good – especially when it comes to digitalisation. 

Back in Spring 2020, all sectors from retail to hospitality and events had to move quickly to adapt to the fast-moving situation and changing behaviours. Most businesses did in fact quickly settle into a steady pace of digital evolution, absorbing the ongoing lessons of the pandemic to accelerate their digital transformation and make themselves more agile and innovative.

As we look to the future, a new factor is concerning many businesses, one that could slow down this digitalisation – tech talent. Simply put, while the number of job vacancies in the tech sector has skyrocketed in the past year, the tech talent required to fill the demand has been far harder to find.  Indeed, fewer than a quarter of UK tech leaders find it easy to identify suitable candidates, according to recruitment firm Talent Works.

The reasons for this are multifaceted. Tech roles – particularly those involving a business’ digital evolution – often tend to be project-based, have an end date and require a specialist – whether that’s in front end development, data or software engineering. The challenge of finding a candidate with the specific skills needed at exactly the right time can prove tricky – particularly as suitable individuals are in short supply.

But the problem has far deeper roots than this. While the tech sector has gone from strength to strength over the last two decades, with the jobs and opportunities it can afford people, we have not adequately invested in the skills of young people or grasped how the lack of digital education will impact the future of the industry. In doing so, we failed to unlock the talent pipeline in the UK.

In fact, despite the obvious demand for IT professions,  the number of young people taking IT subjects at GCSE has dropped 40% since 2015, according to the Learning & Work Institute. Moreover, fewer than half of British employers believe young people are leaving full-time education with sufficiently advanced digital skills. Of course, there is a distinction between general ‘digital skills’ and working in the tech industry or becoming a web developer. Research in 2013 found that the top characteristics of success at Google were being a good coach, communicating and listening well and possessing insights into others – not expertise in STEM subjects.

Nonetheless, the misalignment between the job market, the demands of the economy and the skills of young people is a cause for concern. The reasons for it are numerous – from an aging school curriculum to outdated assumptions about what higher education should entail – but we must also rest some of the blame on those within industry who did not campaign for better digital education or break down social and economic barriers that often hold young people back from pursuing a career in this area.

Now, we need tech companies to work much more closely with universities, schools and policy makers to help encourage young people into the sector. In particular, educational institutions have a responsibility to do more to encourage more girls into STEM subjects. Currently, women comprise 14.4% of all people working in Stem in the UK, despite making up about half of the workforce.

The problem is particularly acute in the UK, where gender inequality remains high. Research has found that in more gender-neutral countries, like Norway and Sweden, the gender gap in STEM subjects such as maths disappears, highlighting that this is not just a tech issue but a societal one. On average, girls perform better academically than boys in the UK – for a variety of reasons. In general, our educational system directs high achieving girls towards what are ultimately white collar professions. We need to shift perceptions of apprenticeships – which are entirely honourable and useful – but currently have the unintended consequence of debasing the tech professions to blue collar status in the eyes of everyone – particularly for girls. We need to create pathways to tech careers which do not have to seem or feel ‘second rate’ – this includes more affordable higher education in STEM disciplines.

Tech careers often cover vast domains of experience and excellence, especially as the complexity of software grows with each decade. The sophisticated machine learning software we now have requires very different skillsets depending on the industry in which it is applied – medicine, construction, engineering, etc. However, there are two overarching key skills – logical thinking and the ability to learn and integrate concepts in a quick and structured way. In STEM learning institutions,  students learn how to learn. Learning how to code at an early age, for example, is a great way to lay a solid foundation of logic and algorithms that can be built upon later on when students begin to specialise in a particular field.

The diversity issue

A lack of diversity has been a long-running thorn in the side of the UK tech sector. It is a problem which not only impacts the talent pipeline for businesses, but also affects project outcomes and results.

According to Tech Nation, women are hugely underrepresented in tech, with women comprising  just 19% of the industry’s workforce. Socio-economic background is also a big factor – one report in 2018 from Inclusive Tech Alliance found that more than one third (36%) of tech execs attended a private school, compared to just 7% of the overall population.

To combat this lack of diversity, there are a number of steps tech companies can take. The first is to approach diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the same way businesses ensure they make profit – setting goals, collecting data and analysing the data to see if goals are met. Considering neurodiversity as well as ethnic is also important – tech requires a broad range of approaches, which is why companies Microsoft and Dell have launched autism hiring programmes.

What is most important, however, is to ensure that managers are on board and involved with diversity efforts from the start. If managers are implementing diversity initiatives which they have helped design, they are more likely to buy into and implement them properly.

Concluding thoughts

With the pandemic causing irreversible changes to the way we communicate and do business, the time to address the tech talent issue is now. Within our own company, Hyve Group plc, we moved rapidly to adapt to the circumstances. Despite only having hosted physical in-person events before March 2020, we have since staged 180 online events over 18 months, welcoming 52,000 attendees in total and keeping vital business communities connected.

However, as we continue to innovate and progress our digital offerings – both for in person and virtual events – we too are aware we need more tech talent to reach our goals and potential.

Ultimately, our goal needs to be to make tech opportunities more accessible to a wider candidate pool – both at school leaving age and later in life for technically-minded career changers. The shift to digital is only set to increase – but without targeted messaging from government and educational institutions bringing more people into the industry, we will be unable to meet demand.

About the author

Steve PinchesSteve joined Hyve in January 2021 – a pivotal moment for the Group as we evolve our omnichannel strategy and enhance our digital capability. As SVP Product, Steve’s focus is on creating a world-class digital experience for customers and developing new and effective ways for them to make connections, learn and do business throughout the year.

Steve has an extensive background in helping organisations across the media, publishing and edtech industries to maximise digital opportunities and create strong digital communities. Most recently, Steve was Chief Operating Officer at Tes Global, a large private equity-owned edtech business with the largest teacher community in the world.

Steve holds an MBA from IE Madrid and a Master’s degree from Warwick University.