Part 3: Future Talent /

Tech Careers

What do we mean by tech careers?

We take a broad definition for tech careers – in this report tech careers are identified as a vocational pathway that might include working in the tech sector (in either a tech, or non tech role), or a tech role outside the tech sector.

This definition allows us to look at the tech economy in its broadest sense – in the same vein that the creative economy has come to be defined to encompass creative, and non-creative jobs 1

The nature of the tech sector means that it is ever evolving, and new forms of work, and industrial activity are constantly emerging. This has been a topic of keen discussion in the context of future employment, and skills opportunities – however, as far as we are aware, there has been little emphasis placed on what this means for young people – who may see the roles they are familiar with now transformed to the extent that they may not be the roles that experience future buoyant demand.

Notes:

  1. See, Nesta A Dynamic Mapping of the UK’s Creative Industries, Available here.

Who wants a tech career?

This section dives deeper into the gender difference in young people’s perceptions of tech careers. We look at the reasoning behind overwhelming bias towards young men choosing tech as a future career path compared to young women.

The research touches on a concerning trend, one that has received much attention in recent years. Given the significant body of evidence on the positive impacts to firm performance, and innovation of a diverse workforce, as evidenced by Mayer et al. (2017) 1 – there is a pressing need for the underrepresentation of women in tech to be addressed. But we should not stop there, industry efforts to ensure that the tech workforce is diverse in terms of gender of workers, (and also (dis)ability, ethnicity and age) must be targeted, practically engaged and active to ensure that tech companies are inclusive, and outwardly open to people of all backgrounds.

Young people aged 15-16 were disproportionately likely to want to work in Technology, whilst those people aged 19 and older are more likely to want to start their own business or work in Retail.

Careers that young people aged 15-16, 17-18 and 19+ want to work in the future

Careers
Proportion of young people who want to work in tech (%) 16 – 16 17 – 18 19+
Technology 30% 23% 22%
Professions 28% 30% 26%
Creative and design 23% 23% 22%
Start my own business 22% 22% 31%
Other 17% 20% 14%
Sports and entertainment 16% 12% 12%
Uniformed services 10% 12% 8%
Financial services 8% 11% 12%
Retail 5% 10% 16%
Construction 5% 6% 7%
Manufacturing 5% 5% 3%
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We we look further into the age distribution of young people who suggested that they would like a tech career, we notice that 16 year olds are more likely to want to work in Technology than any other age group.

Age of young people who want to work in Technology (normalised by age distribution of the sample)

Proportion of young people (normalised)
Age Proportion of young people (normalised)
15 0.23
16 0.32
17 0.23
18 0.23
19+ 0.22
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The Professions are a popular choice of career for all age groups. This perhaps signals the preference instilled through careers guidance and vocational advice at school. It is commonly cited that careers advisors tend to offer advice that reflects their own labour market experiences, and as such, this advice is often suggested to be a barrier to a broad range of career prospects being offered to young people.

It is particularly problematic when careers advice reinforces gender or ethnicity based stereotypes. Research from Beck et al. in 2006 shows that young people receive very little practical information and guidance about the consequences of pursuing particular occupational pathways, and are not engaged in any formal opportunities to debate gender and ethnic stereotyping when it comes to future jobs. Their research focuses on apprenticeships, something that we will come on to discuss. Its findings are particularly worrying for females who work in apprenticeships in sectors with lower completion rates and levels of pay, and which create less opportunity for progression (Beck et al. 2006) 2.

Notes:

  1. Mayer, R. C., Warr, R. S., & Zhao, J. (2017). Do Pro?Diversity Policies Improve Corporate Innovation?. Financial Management.
  2. Beck, V., Fuller, A., & Unwin, L. (2006). Safety in stereotypes? The impact of gender and ‘race’ on young people’s perceptions of their post?compulsory education and labour market opportunities. British Educational Research Journal, 32(5), 667-686.

Proportion of young people who want to work in technology by gender (%)

Gender Proportion who want to work in technology (%)
Male 69.7%
Female 28.2%
Other 2.1%
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Reasons stated by young people (who want to work in Technology) for wanting to work in Technology in the future

Statements about careers in tech
Proportion of young people who want to work in technology (%) Proportion of young people who want to work in technology (%)
Fast moving sector 55
Interesting jobs 54
Well paying jobs 50
Big tech company profile 45
Good use of STEM skills 36
I know people in technology 18
Tech companies at a careers fair 18
Friends/ parents recommend 14
Other 3
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Young people that wanted to work in Technology cited the fast moving and exciting nature of the tech sector, the interesting jobs it offers, good pay, and awareness of large tech companies such as Apple, Facebook and Google for stimulating their interest to work in tech.

Perceptions of career factors of young people who want to work in Technology

Career factor
Proportion of young people who want to work in technology (%) Not at all important Not very important Fairly important Very important
Job security 1 6 49 44
Salary 2 6 52 40
Work-life balance 1 8 39 52
Career progression 1 9 44 45
Working with a diverse range of people 6 28 42 24
Working with the latest technology 7 43 37 13
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Young people who wanted to work in Technology cited job security as the most important aspect of future work (93% Very important, and Fairly important) followed by Salary (92% Very important, and Fairly important), Career Progression – 88%, and Work-life balance 88%.

Young people feel strongly about work life balance, 51% suggested this career factor is Very important. As a tech employer, here are three practical steps that you could take to facilitate a company culture conducive to a fulfilling employee experience:

  1. ‘20% time’ – Google’s much lauded, but seldomly replicated freedom to innovate has led to the creation of many new products and services, in your company, you may want to experiment with the allocation of innovation time – perhaps beginning at 10% of the working week. Piloting to understand the benefits of an initiative like this should encompass both firm level performance benefits, but critically focus on individuals – this should be about creating a culture – the spillovers of which will be captured in the learnings and outputs of the people that work with you.
  2. Set up a social committee – social activities can be usefully integrated into working life, there is ample evidence on the productivity benefits of doing this (take Khavis and Khrishnan’s study on accountants, for example), but there is also research that suggests the positive wellbeing impacts for employees aligns people with the company they work for – a secondary impact of social activity at work (for instance, Medina-Garrido et al.’s study on the Spanish Banking sector finds that mechanisms to promote a work-family balance have a positive impact on wellbeing, and productivity spillovers effect for the company)
  3. Adopt flexible working – this might encompass a whole range of activities, that could be customised, based on the culture and needs of your company. It may include remote (out of office) working, flexible time, shift swaps, career breaks, compressed hours – the list goes on. But in many cases, what makes this type of working effective, is a blend of appropriate technology to enable staff to stay connected, and a culture that means wherever and whenever someone is working, they are able to enjoy the same working experience as other colleagues, and capitalise on the benefits that flexibility might yield.

Of those young people who do not want to work in Technology, young men tended to suggest that ‘other areas are more appealing’ at 50% of the sample, whilst young women were more likely than men to perceive that they ‘do not have the skills to work in Technology’, ‘lack knowledge about Technology’, or that it is ‘not for people like them’.

Reasons for not wanting to work in Technology
Proportion of young men and women (%) Male Female
Other areas more appealing 48% 50%
I won’t have the skills 32% 45%
I don’t know anything about it 22% 38%
It’s not for people like me 21% 24%
Not many tech jobs around 15% 13%
Poor working conditions 14% 8%
Other 7% 4%
Friends’/ parents’ negative opinion 6% 4%
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Young people aged over 19 years were more likely to perceive that they do not have the skills to work in technology, and that there are not many tech jobs around than other age groups.

Reasons stated for not wanting to work in technology by age

Reasons for not wanting to work in technology
Respondents (%) 15 – 17 17 – 18 19+
Other areas more appealing 48% 55% 42%
I won’t have the skills 35% 39% 44%
I don’t know anything about it 25% 33% 32%
It’s not for people like me 25% 21% 22%
Poor working conditions 10% 11% 11%
Not many tech jobs around 10% 12% 17%
Other 5% 6% 5%
Friends’/ parents’ negative opinion 4% 5% 5%
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The UK as a whole has seen a shift away from teaching Information Technology, and towards learning technical skills, like coding and digital making at a young age to endow young people with the skills that they will likely need in light of the increasing pervasiveness of digital tech through the economy.

Nesta’s 2015 report on Young Digital Making 1 tracks changes in the digital landscape with regards to young people and education. In 2010 computing became part of the curriculum in Scottish schools, and at the start of the academic year in 2014 computing become a new subject in the National Curriculum for England. This meant that aspects of programming and computer science were incorporated in lessons for all young people aged six to 14.

The fact that many of the changes were not experienced by older young people in our sample might go some way to explain the difference in response by age, where older groups are likely to perceive that they do not have the skills needed to work in Technology.

Extra curricular activities should therefore play a role in enabling young people aged 19+ to engage with some of the learning, technologies, and methods that younger people are being exposed to at school.

Notes:

  1. See: https://www.nesta.org.uk/sites/default/files/youngdigmakers.pdf

Tech Nation Talent

A four-part series of reports on the talent and skills dynamics of the UK tech sector.


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