istock 689967238

It’s no secret that the UK faces a widening IT skills gap, or that its impact on business could be serious.

A report this year by recruitment firm Robert Walters found that 89 percent of firms would see shortages of technology talent in 2019, while a study by Deloitte found that only 16 percent of executives believed their teams had the capabilities to deliver on their digital strategy. The Federation of Small Businesses, meanwhile, has reported that almost a quarter of UK business owners believe that a lack of digital skills is holding them and their workforce back.

So, what’s the reason for this widening IT skills gap?

Many feel that it ultimately comes down to education, and a lack of development in computer science and technology teaching. For all the enthusiasm that many teachers have put into getting students coding, only 7,600 students in England took a computing A-level in 2017. By comparison, approximately 80,000 studied Math’s at A-level in the same year. 

As a result of this, few leave education with the IT skills businesses are really looking for. According to Deloitte’s study, only 12 percent of business leaders believe UK school leavers and graduates are leaving education with the relevant digital skills, while others suggest that a reduction of IT recruitment in the last recession has resulted in a shortfall of experienced mid-level employees today.

Either way, the skills gap couldn’t have come at a worse time. Just as enterprises face new challenges and opportunities, like looking to take advantage of cloud, IoT, AI and machine learning, they find themselves struggling to find the talent that can help them innovate, optimise and compete.

To some extent, this is a long-term problem, and one that only education and public policy can fix. Back in 2016, the government report, Digital Skills for the UK Economy, recommended that the government needed to ‘provide leadership, coordination and key resources in establishing the conditions for digital skills development’ and ‘ensure that digital skills are learned pervasively at all stages of education and training.’

Subhead: How CIOs can beat the IT skills gap

Yet that’s a long-term solution when many CIOs are feeling the pressure right now. So, what can CIOs do to help fill their own IT skills gap?

Partly, it’s a question of getting involved at grass level, partnering with schools, colleges and universities to help them understand and prepare for the technology requirements of tomorrow. Already, Digital Skills Partnership (DSP) Schemes are running in the South West, the North East and Lancashire to help build relationships that can deliver training and improve skills. Some institutions offer skills match programmes, where local enterprises can be matched with graduates for internships, apprenticeships and placements.

There are also steps firms can take to develop skills in their existing workforce. Some of the biggest IT firms are leading the way. Intel, Cisco and Nominet all run apprenticeship schemes, while Google has a Digital Skills Academy to train and inspire innovation in London. Amazon Web Services (AWS) has its own reskilling program, working both with newcomers to IT from the Prince’s Trust and the military and the many thousands of IT professionals whose skills may have grown irrelevant. Salesforce is another leading industry stakeholder working with schools and building a more diverse workforce to help reduce the IT skills gap.

Yet there are also things that firms can do internally. The most obvious is to keep delivering professional development and training to the IT workforce so that they’re equipped to flourish with a new wave of technology. Another option is what some call Citizen Development, where IT delivers infrastructure, services and enterprise architecture as a platform, giving the end-users corporate-sanctioned tools and skills to develop their own apps and services. Provided the right governance is in place, these have-a-go heroes don’t have to talk to IT to find new tools and applications; they have more freedom to build and innovate.  Machine learning and automation will also help, enabling hard-pressed IT teams to do more with less manpower.

Most of all, companies can reduce the impact of the skills gap by not attempting to do everything themselves.

With the cloud and open-source technologies, companies can work with established tools and platforms, partnering with specialists who already have the relevant experience and talent. This leaves the in-house IT team more space to focus on operations and projects that bring value to the business, while enabling them to develop and iterate faster, so that a new idea becomes a working tool with ROI. Education, training and reskilling are all very necessary, but right now the easiest way to fill the skills gap could be to get some help.