Recruitment and finding the right IT skills to drive transformation are becoming major hurdles for CIOs, who responded to the CIO 100 they were largely looking to increase headcount to bring key skills back inside their organisations.

Some 68% of CIOs in the CIO 100 said that they were finding it difficult to recruit the right talent to drive transformation, compared to 62% in 2016. Retention and recruitment had risen up the CIO agenda of 84% of the CIO 100, a small increase from the 79% of 2016.

President of techUK, Jacqueline de Rojas, said that the 2017 CIO 100 figures show that technology skills are an urgent policy issue which needs to be addressed by the next government if the UK is to become a digital nation of any significance.

Against the backdrop of a skills shortage almost three-quarters of CIOs said that they were planning to increase headcount, with 74% reporting they were planning to bring key skills and the ability to react to needs back in-house, an increase from the 65% who responded the same last year.

A smaller number of the 2017 edition of the CIO 100 operate an apprenticeship scheme than in 2016, 61% compared to 74% who had such a programme or were in the process of developing one.

STEM and digital skills shortage

De Rojas said that a chronic shortage of technology skills was becoming increasingly significant for UK businesses.

"The digital skills gap is an urgent policy issue that must be addressed by the next Government if we are to become a digital nation of significance," she told CIO UK.

"The UK has a chronic shortage of STEM and digital skills. While there is still more to be done, this issue has been recognised by both industry and the last Government. Several industry initiatives were included in the Digital Strategy and the Spring Budget saw new funding announcements in lifelong learning initiatives and women returners. The recognition of the need for a culture of lifelong learning is vital as UK workers must have the tools to undergo the retraining required for jobs of the future."

Emma McGuigan, Accenture's Group Technology Officer for Communications, Media and Technology, said that encouraging more women into STEM was one way of tackling the skills shortage.

"Digital and technology skills are critical to UK organisations' ability to drive transformation, which means businesses, educators and government must work together to tackle the skills gap," she said. "It all starts with broadening the talent pool. At Accenture this includes various initiatives to equip young people with the skills needed to thrive in the digital economy, including our Digital Skills Programme, the vocational training we offer through Movement to Work and our technology apprenticeship programme.

"We also focus on attracting more women into STEM, which we believe requires early interventions to prevent girls' engagement with STEM subjects waning just as they reach the age when they begin to consider their subject choices and future careers. Our nationwide Girls in STEM events reach thousands of girls and we run regular 'STEM in a Day' sessions for schools as well as code clubs to inspire girls about the many exciting and transformative applications of STEM, which will ultimately prepare them for the high-skilled jobs of the future."

IT apprenticeships

Training and apprenticeships have been touted as methods of tackling IT skills shortages.

Organisations from universities to large retail and FMCG organisations, including John Lewis CIO Paul Coby and Unilever CIO Jane Moran, have established technology apprenticeship schemes. CIOs including Coby and AstraZeneca CIO David Smoley who have programmes for apprentices were also among the 32% responding their organisation was not finding it challenging to recruit the skills required to drive transformation. Unlike 2016 however where there was a strong correlation between organisations training apprentices and those who were not finding it difficult to recruit the right skills and talent, no such trend emerged in 2017.

Norfolk County Council CIO Geoff Connell told CIO UK during his tenure as CIO at Newham and Havering Borough Councils that it was important for public sector bodies to "grow their own" because of a moral obligation to the local community it serves, and because it was not always practical to compete for highly-skilled technology professionals.

CIO 100 panel member Jayne Nickalls added: "Recruitment difficulties and a tech skills gap are key issue facing many companies in the UK; meanwhile in other parts of the world, and Asia in particular, there is a growing cohort with these skills so the ability to bring in and use skilled  people from outside the UK is crucial."