Saturday 30 January 2021 9:00 am

Tech firms need to grasp the chance to change their hiring

Oliver Beach is Jolt's UK GM and VP for Growth

The year 2020 will be remembered for a lot of reasons. 

It was, obviously, a challenging year, with many facing furlough and redundancies, as scores of businesses were forced to close their doors. The pandemic has hit the economy hard, and the UK’s jobs crisis is worsening each month. 

Worryingly, young people are the most affected with 16-24 year olds making up 60% of the fall in employment since the start of Covid-19. 

Read more: UK unemployment rate jumps to highest for five years

But this was also a year of innovation in the face of adversity, with the adoption of new technologies being accelerated by years in the space of weeks. 

Captain Tom led an open-banking revolution through Just Giving’s new ‘bank transfer’ feature, independent retailers set up shop online for the first time, and young people completed internships on Zoom and Microsoft Teams. All these moments have been driven by tech – a sector in which the UK continues to lead. 

The UK is home to 85 unicorns now with Cazoo and Gymshark recently joining the ranks, more than any other European country. 

Investors continued to see value in UK tech too, investing over $12bn last year, more than double the amount spent in the next highest country, Germany.

In a year when most other sectors had to reduce the size of their teams, data shows that the UK’s tech ecosystem has been hiring… and hiring a lot. The number of jobs in UK tech grew by 40 per cent in the last 2 years, and the sector is now one of the UK’s fastest growing employers, making up 10 per cent of the national workforce.

This puts tech firms in pole position to help the UK’s young people enter – or reenter – the workforce at a time when they face enormous challenges and uncertainty about their careers. 

It’s time to dispel the myth that you have to be a software engineer to work in tech: you can be a designer, an operations manager, a marketer, or a sales expert – and still be part of one of the fastest growing industries in history.

Gone are the days where degrees were required for ‘serious’ careers, and apprenticeships reserved for manual work. Today’s young people have a variety of paths once they hit 16. If tech companies want to tap into this diverse talent pool – one which has grown up surrounded by technology – they must look further than university grads. 

Read more: Concrete changes can allow Britain’s digital firms to fly

This year, then, is a pivotal moment for tech firms to step up and benefit from the new perspectives that come with hiring talented young people from diverse backgrounds. Our industry knows it needs to clean up its act on diversity across the board, from gender to ethnicity, and re-thinking entry-level recruitment is the best way to tackle this. The young people joining tech now will be its leaders before long, so we have a chance to make sure tomorrow’s innovators actually represent the world we live in.

Over the course of the pandemic, the UK Government has launched initiatives to help get people back into work, creating the perfect opportunity for tech firms to change the way they hire. My company – Jolt – partnered with the DWP and Treasury on the Kickstart scheme to create a bespoke programme for the tech industry, providing young people with opportunities at firms like Bulb, allplants, Bloomberg and Olio. 

By thinking differently and using available support, providing innovative resources and supporting young people in developing their networks, we will prove that tech can open doors to a new career, regardless of background.

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.