The sharp end of the skills shortage: issues tech needs to tackle

Guest Posts, insights, Tech Nation news, Tech Nation Report 2017

Julian MisellJulian Misell, April 19, 2017

This article was originally posted on the Tech North website.

Julian Misell is a research consultant with considerable experience in the digital tech sector. He was lead researcher on the recent Tech Nation 2017 report.

Here he looks at some of the issues we’ll address at our Digital Jobs Action Summit on April 27th in Leeds. Free tickets are available now.


HR consultancy The Manpower Group conducts an annual Talent Shortage Survey. This year, of the more than 42,000 employers surveyed globally, 40 percent are experiencing difficulties filling roles, with IT jobs the second hardest to recruit.

So, the oft-mentioned UK tech skills gap is part of a much wider talent shortage. Tech is, however, arguably at the sharp end of this hiring crunch, being more reliant on new skills that schools don’t always teach, and that labour markets don’t supply in sufficient quantity.

The recent Tech Nation survey underscored this point – some 72 percent of UK digital tech businesses employing 100 or more people said the lack of supply of highly skilled workers was a challenge. And perhaps more troublingly, a third of digital tech businesses (32 percent) rate talent supply in their area as poor.

Solving the crisis, sustainably

One way that tech employers have addressed this challenge is by offering better pay. Consequently, tech workers have enjoyed sustained wages growth in recent years. Advertised digital tech salaries have risen by 13 percent since 2012; that’s over three times as fast as non-digital salaries. But is this sustainable? Around a third of tech businesses now say that candidates are asking for more money than they can afford to pay?

Employers are also looking abroad for talent. In total, some 13 percent of jobs in the digital tech sector are currently filled by international workers – up from 11 percent in 2011 and significantly higher than the 10 percent across the rest of the economy. Consequently, Brexit has emerged as something of a concern for UK tech employers, over two fifths (41 percent) of whom believe that it will make it harder to attract talent.

Immigration aside, the current talent shortage could be significantly alleviated by encouraging more women into the digital tech sector. Presently, women are severely under-represented. The Tech Nation survey highlighted the fact that UK digital tech companies rely on an overwhelmingly male workforce. Women are in the majority for only one in nine (11 percent) of digital tech companies.

This is, of course, a complicated issue, but there is little doubt that digital tech companies could do more to attract and retain women, as well as to challenge stereotypes and cultural biases. Beyond this, however, lies a broader need to encourage women to embrace technology from a young age and to consider STEM careers.

No quick fixes

There are no short-term fixes. Therefore, the supply of ready-made tech employees is unlikely to keep pace with demand anytime soon. This has huge implications for tech businesses – from needing to find new ways of engaging with prospective talent and designing business models that allow for effective on the job training, through to creating reward structures and cultures that retain key talent.

These are just some of the issues that we’ll be considering at Tech North’s Digital Jobs Action Summit in Leeds on 27th April. Get your free ticket now.