The IT skills gap is growing: It's not all about startups and Silicon Roundabout

Jonathan Tate
The Silicon Roundabout In Old Street
Ultimately the UK's digital revolution needs to think outside of startups (Source: Getty)

Amid all the pleas and promises to ensure the UK remains at the forefront of the digital revolution we need to remember that it is not all about startups and the "Silicon Roundabout".

A more pressing problem of not having enough workers to fill the jobs in IT departments across Britain is now confronting the sector. While these technology support centres may be viewed as dinosaurs by the younger tech set, they play a crucial function for the organisations which make up the backbone of the UK economy, not to mention a breeding ground for innovation. But it appears the talent is going elsewhere.

A gap of 55,000 in the technology jobs market was recently highlighted by the European Commission whilst a PwC study revealed almost 10 per cent of all jobs in central London are IT-related - and the fastest growing employment category. The impact is certainly being felt by business. The same study showed some 70 per cent of senior executives in the UK also cited a shortage in technology skills as a significant inhibitor to their digital plans.

So the often used complaint by IT professionals that their jobs are all being moved to India certainly seems to be reversing.

Demand appears to be on the rise across the board – both in large established corporates and newer market entrants such as those in the much vaunted digital start-up scene. This is driven not just by technology per se – but equally by today's ease of access to technology, meaning everyone wants a piece of the action.

It’s not just IT departments that are out hiring. Marketing divisions, operations and back office functions are all desperate to embrace the digital revolution.

Looking at the supply side of the equation it’s clear that this is not evolving fast enough to deliver what’s needed. Despite some of the latest developments in the education sector, such as "academies" offering training in accelerated coding, it is unlikely the large quantities of IT specialists that are needed will be delivered in time, as the higher education sector struggles to keep pace with the lightning pace of technological change.

So what is the solution for this supply-demand mismatch?

Clearly hot skills and top talent will attract an increasing premium in the jobs market, and it may be large corporates who suffer most.

After all, who wants to work on supporting 30 year old systems, replacing someone who's about to retire, when they can join the latest fintech offering, an area where banks are now focusing their attention?

This creates a significant risk. While the hype is all around newer digital technologies, this is not what gets bills paid or moves goods around the country. Ultimately the UK's digital revolution needs to think outside of startups, and not forget technologies' 'old guard', if it is to prosper.

Relying on government intervention or the education system alone won't solve this looming short term crisis. Industry also needs to look within. Faced with increased competition for skills, it needs to develop the right strategies to stay in the game. Attracting top talent as well as redeploying people from other areas of their businesses into IT divisions and making use of obvious synergies are a starting point.

The UK's skills shortage is fixable and this is where true innovation may count the most.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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