Blog | Tackling the skills gap and fostering the next generation of tech leaders

April 25th

Blog by Josh Porter, Content Manager, Rela8 Group with contributions from:

  • EMEA Information Security Officer for a major US defence contractor
  • VP of Infosec at a global FinTech company
  • Director of IT at a multinational bank and financial services company
  • Founder of a Data & Analytics consultancy firm
  • CSO of a multinational information, data, and market measurement firm

Whether we want to admit it or not, the tech sector is facing a hiring crisis. This crisis has many faces – brain drain, vacuums caused by rapid growth, competitive job hopping, a genuine skills gap, burnout and employee churn – but the end result is the same, vacancies are going unfilled and staff are paying the price. No organisation is immune to the threat of a dwindling workforce and speaking to experts from across the Technology Leaders Club, it is clear that people are wisely making this issue a priority.

Is there a skills gap?

At surface value, there is no question that a skill gap exists, brought about by a rapidly growing tech sector that is not only growing quickly, but evolving quickly. There simply aren’t enough new entrants to the workforce to meet demand and new skills are being established that there simply isn’t supply for. While changes are slowly being made, traditional education systems don’t adequately prepare students for careers in the tech sector and this is only furthered by a general lack of awareness of the jobs available – people might want to work in cyber security, but what does that actually mean? There is far more to the industry than resetting email passwords and blocking certain sites. Despite all of this, tech experts are less convinced by the existence of a skills gap:

The skills gap is created by our HR departments. They ask too much for entry level positions that require 5 years’ experience and all these certifications which obviously cost money. These entrants potentially aren’t even at the level where they could pass these certifications yet. I think it’s really important that we give people a chance. Attitude is a huge part of it. You can teach technical skills but having the right attitude and work ethic - someone that’s willing to learn and wants to get involved - is really critical.
EMEA Information Security Officer for a major US defence contractor

And they weren't the only one to view the "skills gap" as a self-imposed challenge:

The reality is that we have people out there that want to work. We also have huge extensive lists of many positions in the tech industry that are not filled out. If the interest is there, why is that? Opportunities should be offered to anybody that tries to get into the industry because everybody can learn.
VP of Infosec at a global FinTech company

Tech experts are taking a different approach to the skills gap – by prioritising people with the right attitude and work ethic instead of prioritising purely on skills and qualifications, we can stimulate an influx of new blood and focus on upskilling the right people.

The same can be said for businesses rapidly expanding into new technologies – don’t simply fire and rehire for emerging skillsets. Not only is it more expensive to hire and onboard as opposed to training existing staff, but nurturing and supporting your staff is critical to staff retention, the other side of the skills gap coin.

Retaining the right people

The COVID-19 pandemic and current job market have massively shifted the employer/employee power dynamic. Staff are reprioritising what is important to them, causing mass resignations. With growing numbers of vacancies, staff have never been more empowered to chase better offers, but where does that leave the organisations unable to compete with the tech giants willing to offer massive salaries? Hiring practices are the weak link to be improved:

When hiring new people in this landscape, it has become far more important to look for personality and culture matches as opposed to skill and experience. Promoting staff from within or transferring those from other teams who are interested in IT and investing in them builds upon existing loyalty. Skills can be taught but fostering this culture of loyalty and resilience comes down to staff personality. It’s also important to look at why staff are leaving and whether or not those issues can be addressed. For example, if it’s a matter of pay, it’s worth remembering that it is far cheaper to pay more than it is to recruit, and if you can’t pay more, what can you offer?
Director of IT at a multinational bank and financial services company

Tech leaders are confident that any hiring or retention challenges can be solved by fostering a better culture around hiring practices, one that places greater emphasis on working with your staff to ensure that they are nurtured and supported. But will people want to sign up to careers in tech if they don’t feel secure?

A contracting market and stumbling leadership

As demonstrated by the massive waves of layoffs in recent months, the tech sector has been experiencing a major contraction, caused primarily by over-hiring in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic:

These unfortunate outcomes are the sole result of poor management at the senior and C-suite level, where accountability is passed down to their organisations as senior leadership continues to be able to perpetuate this culture of disposability with their staff. This is a hard pill to swallow, but time and time again VPs and the C-suite are allowed to make these mistakes and are rarely cycled out for them.
Founder of a Data & Analytics consultancy firm

This culture of short-term thinking puts pressure on staff who no longer have any faith in their job security job security. This disillusionment is passed onto the next generation who, facing unprecedented financial struggles, need that confidence in their job security and are looking to start careers. The simple matter is that in the face of mass layoffs and wages falling far short of inflation, all these workers are looking for is acceptable compensation, reasonable working hours, and the same level of job security their superiors enjoyed at this time in their careers. These are not outrageous demands, but leadership often chooses to argue even the most reasonable of these requests at a cultural level. Some Fortune 500 companies still have a 5-day in-office requirement and seem stunned when they cannot source good talent when their competitors offer hybrid/remote working models and merit-based promotions. It is incredibly clear on the type of measures that tech companies need to put into place to secure and retain their talent; the question is if leadership is suited for doing so.

The next generation

For all the work that can be done right now to combat employee churn and longstanding vacancies, a concern that looms large is whether or not the tech sector can nurture the next generation of IT, data, and security experts. In order to weather the storm, the tech sector is going to need to get hands on with the next generation.

Tech companies should be looking to partner with educational institutions and government bodies to introduce technology concepts at a young age. The more we expose the next generation to the opportunities within tech, the more likely we are to encourage entrants who are better equipped to meet the demands of the sector. On top of this, organisations should be supporting initiatives that provide quality education to individuals who may not have access to it, such as online learning platforms, coding boot camps, and apprenticeship programs.

Another key element to encouraging people towards tech is fixing its image problem. Homogenous, rife with overwork and burnout, elitist – none of the common perceptions do anything to enthuse the next generation to jump into the world of tech. As the CIO of a major financial services organisation puts it:

People complain a lot about getting the same types of people applying to every job, but what are they doing to encourage a more diverse crowd to apply? Taking steps to actively recruit from more diverse talent pools of underrepresented minorities and socioeconomic backgrounds will open the door for so many others interested in tech.
CSO of a multinational information, data, and market measurement firm

The challenges facing the industry aren’t unique to tech. Every industry is ultimately going to have to grapple with waning interest unless steps are taken to demonstrate that careers are accessible, and importantly, desirable. By addressing tech’s inhospitable culture and opening the doors to a wider audience, the tech industry can begin to move away from trying and failing to hire the ‘perfect’ applicant, and can instead focus on nurturing and developing the next generation of tech.

Rela8 Group partners with the Chartered Institute of Information Security, whose student and graduate members will understand these challenges all too well. However, there are many tools, developmental courses, events, and networking opportunities out there to support these candidates.

Click here for more information.

Individuals looking to network and gain C-level insights across the IT, cyber security, and Data sectors, sign up to the Technology Leaders Club to access our library of whitepapers and resources for free. By signing up, you’ll also be first to hear about upcoming networking events, roundtable discussions, and job opportunities across the network.

If you want to get in touch then give us a shout