Roundtable: Bridging the Tech Skills Gap: Do You Need More than a Degree?

The new report comes from Riverbed, who surveyed 1,800 global IT and business decision makers reveals the skills gap is still a clear and present danger for many businesses, with 34% of UK respondents confirmed they are understaffed whilst 44% cited they have enough employees but they lack key skills, with 76% of those setting budget aside for training IT staff.

Also, Wiley Edge’s annual Diversity in Tech report has discovered that almost half (45%) of businesses offering tech roles claim that candidates applying for entry-level positions lack core technical skills, despite holding a relevant degree.

This perceived lack of qualified talent among business leaders could be contributing to difficult job hunts, with 54% of Gen Z professionals taking between four to nine months to secure their first role. It also found that 43% think candidates from historically underrepresented groups with the right formal qualifications are scarce, and 44% are more likely to hire from top universities.

And opening your business to what G-P (Globalization Partners) calls a ‘global mindset’ is one way to secure the people with the skills your business needs to innovate with technologies such as AI. More than four-fifths (86%) of UK executives say identifying skilled talent in their current markets is a problem, and 72% are considering hiring internationally as a solution to their talent needs. And 90% of UK employees are excited about potential uses of AI at work. As companies look to expand, 48% of UK executives—as well as 43% of employees—believe AI can improve predicting business challenges in prospective new markets.

“Business growth is no longer a linear journey. For organisations to thrive amid today’s ever-evolving market dynamics, businesses, and their leaders, need to constantly evolve. Adopting a global mindset is key to navigating change, driving innovation, and developing new business models,” said Nicole Sahin, CEO of G-P.

“But having a global mindset alone is not enough,” continued Sahin. “Leaders need to create a holistic business environment that supports an everywhere workforce. There needs to be a convergence of global mindset, human expertise, and powerful technology to navigate the intricacies of global growth to realise optimal innovation, create global growth opportunity and gain a competitive edge.”

Bridging the skills gap

[SB] Suzie Bell, Project Manager, Ahead Partnership.

Suzie Bell, Project Manager, Ahead Partnership.

[CS] Chelsea Slater, CEO, InnovateHer.

Chelsea Slater, CEO, InnovateHer.

[DH] Dave Hansbury, Solutions Engineer at leading tech company, Sync.

Dave Hansbury, Solutions Engineer at leading tech company, Sync.

[FB] Managing Director of AND Digital’s Club Grace in Edinburgh.

Fiona Burton, Managing Director, AND Digital.
Instagram – @chriswattphotography

[GT] Grace Tattersall, Partner, Anderson Quigley.

Grace Tattersall, Partner, Anderson Quigley.

[TM] Taps Mtutu, Senior Technology Programme Manager, SEO London.

Taps Mtutu, Senior Technology Programme Manager, SEO London.

[SN] Salvatore Nigro, CEO, JA Europe.

Salvatore Nigro, CEO, JA Europe.

[TC] Tom Cornell, Senior I/O Consultant of HireVue.

Tom Cornell, Senior I/O Consultant of HireVue.

[KV] Kevin Vashi, Managing Director, Netcom Training.

Kevin Vashi, Managing Director, Netcom Training.

[CM] Cassandra Macdonald, Dean of School of Technology, BPP.

Cassandra Macdonald, Dean of School of Technology, BPP.

Do you need more than a degree to get the best jobs in tech?

[CS] “In the tech industry, the importance of the degree varies depending on the role, with it being vital for some roles more than others. While a degree can be beneficial in the tech industry, it’s not always a strict requirement for landing the best jobs. Practical skills, networking, specialised training, and a strong commitment to personal and professional growth can be equally valuable in securing high-quality tech positions. I would highly recommend seeking out and attending as many industry events, conferences, and online forums as possible to be on top of trends and to connect with professionals in your field. Building a professional network within the tech industry can lead to job opportunities that may not be advertised publicly.”

[FB] “Success in tech is all about mindset. We’re looking for individuals with a growth mindset who want to learn, continuously. The candidates who stand out at interviews have an inherent sense of curiosity and an unwavering desire to solve problems – whether technical, cultural, or strategic. These individuals think of upskilling as a gift, not a chore. The world of tech is so fast changing. To get the best jobs in tech, you must be comfortable with ambiguity, passionate about problem solving and you must be able to communicate complex information, simply. I’m also always looking for people who thrive in team environments and are not afraid to fail.”

[TM] “Yes, having more than a degree is essential. While a degree provides the foundational knowledge, it often falls short in preparing people for real word work environments. Someone might achieve a First Class Honours in Computer Science, but not have the soft skills that are needed to be successful, such as the ability to network, approach your manager or effectively collaborate with your teammates.

“You’ll be a more attractive candidate for a top job if you can pair your expert coding skills with people skills and demonstrate tenacity. Tech is a dynamic role and ever-changing, so not only do you need to be well-versed in tech theory, but also have some cultural capital. Luckily there are organisations and free tools out there that people can take advantage of to become ‘job ready’, so when it comes to going from traditional education to adjusting to the demand of the tech workplace, you would have seen it all before.”

[TC] “In this current tech climate, a degree is not all you need to get the best job. The most useful skill an individual can have been the passion and commitment to continually learn about tech. For the last few decades, employers have been adding degree requirements to positions that didn’t actually need them and it’s time for them to start recognising that too many well-qualified applicants are not making it through the hiring systems due to arbitrary degree and experience requirements.”

[KV] “Short answer is no. It’s more about getting the right, practical skillsets for your industry. For some people, this may involve a degree, but this is not always necessary. Others may begin a successful career in tech through alternate entry points and decide that their current path isn’t quite what they had hoped for, so they choose to retrain or upskill. Short courses or skills bootcamps can be an excellent way for individuals to gain new qualifications and knowledge that can help them return to the workforce. Earlier this year a further £34 million was pledged to help adults with career progression and better pay showing the government focus on plugging the gap.

“Whether someone has been out of work for a few months or several years, these sessions, which are often delivered around working hours and run from two to six weeks, offer a flexible and accessible option for building confidence and enhancing employability. The key is that you must work hard to develop the appropriate skillset.”

What are the key factors contributing to the tech skills gap?

[CS] “As technology evolves quickly, and new tools, languages, and frameworks emerge regularly, educational institutions and training programs may struggle to keep pace, while traditional educational systems often lag behind industry needs in teaching the latest tech skills. Many tech roles require specialised knowledge that isn’t adequately covered in the standard curriculum. Insufficient training programmes are also contributing to the skills gap as not all aspiring tech professionals have access to quality training programs, particularly in underserved communities. Though coding boot camps and online courses have helped bridge this gap to some extent.”

[DH] “There exists three key factors behind the tech skills gap: Rapid advancements: Our sector evolves quickly, and without keeping up with the latest trends and industry knowledge, prospective graduates and workers starting off in the industry can struggle to keep up. Lack of on-site experience: Many tech jobs require hands-on experience that you can’t pick up in the classroom. Gaining this experience from an early age is crucial and those don’t will face missing out on key learning and harnessing skills.

“COVID-19: The pandemic had affectively halted lots of tech businesses, who were forced to either work from home (and miss out on learning at the office or on-site) or pause work completely. In doing so, many were unable to gain relevant experience during this period and the skills gap has further widened as a consequence.”

[TC] “Now more than ever, the tech skills shortage remains a prevalent issue across various industries. Businesses have resorted to labour hoarding as a primary strategy to manage this shortage, where they heavily invest in retaining their existing workforce to maintain the status quo and prevent talent attrition. When we delve into the specific skills shortage, the demand for digital and technical expertise emerges as a significant pain point. The scarcity stems from the perceived lack of candidates possessing the requisite skills to meet job requirements.”

[CM] “To meet the skills requirements of the ever-changing tech landscape, many tech businesses are trying to ‘buy’ talent – hiring skilled individuals – rather than ‘building’ talent – investing in training for new or existing employees. Trying to buy your way out of a talent crisis only exacerbates the existing skills shortage, creating a competitive environment that drives up salaries, making it even harder to hire and retain the talent companies need.”

What role do employers play in addressing the tech skills gap, and what strategies can they employ to attract and retain tech talent?

[DH] “Employers can play a crucial role in addressing the tech skills gap by offering leading apprenticeships, internships, and on-the-job training opportunities to not only attract talent, but to help staff reach their maximum potential. Ongoing learning and upskilling are vital in addressing the skills gap and as long as employees have an appetite to learn more, their employers need to be doing their bit to offer clear career progression paths.”

[FB] “Employers play a huge role in addressing the digital skills gap, but my advice is always start small, test, and learn and then scale. Any digital transformation starts with culture change. This means looking inwards to see what areas need to improve, but also exploring the strengths within your team. You don’t always have to look outside of your organisation to plug the gap. It is highly likely that you have enthusiastic, talented people within your existing teams who want to upskill, and we know they are more likely to stay if they are learning, progressing, and fulfilled in their roles.”

[GT] “Parental responsibilities are a key factor preventing many women progressing in tech. We can remove this barrier by offering flexible working models and placing higher value on a work-life balance for employees.

“Unconscious bias also plays a crucial role in keeping women out of the top positions. Organisations must examine their processes and ensure the language in job adverts is neutral, men and women are considered equally in HR policies, and flexible modes of working are offered wherever possible to ensure the widest candidate pool. The desire to improve gender equality – and diversity characteristics beyond gender – should stem from a genuine recognition of the value a diverse leadership team offers.

“There have been encouraging signs of progress recently, such as improved general awareness about the menopause and better parental leave policies which are allowing more women to rejoin the skilled workforce. Media attention on these issues is also going in the right direction. We just need to keep pushing for change, so that in 2033 we are not having the same discussion as today.”

[TC] “It’s important that capturing a wider net for talent also includes providing different forms of opportunities to reflect life stages. Non- traditional educational pathways, such as coding bootcamps, can majorly help in closing the skills gap. It then falls onto the potential employer, to recognise this pathway, by hiring off of a skills-based approach, as it is likely that as a result of them developing such specific skills, they will be better prepared than their counterparts who were taught a theory-based degree.”

[CM] “Employers not only have control over creating specific job roles and functions within their workplaces, but they also influence wider demand for certain skills in the jobs market.

“It may seem counterintuitive, but businesses looking for candidates shouldn’t just look for talent that already have the skills they need. Instead, they should start recognising certain gaps in the talent market and offer training and development opportunities for existing employees to bridge it. That way, businesses can make sure they’re one step ahead of their competitors when it comes to employee skills.

“Professional apprenticeships can be key to this – and to addressing the wider skills gap. Rather than waiting for fully formed experts, who may not exist in such a tight labour market, tech employers can take on apprentices or put existing employees through apprenticeship courses to upskill. Through the learning-while-doing philosophy that is created through apprenticeships, businesses can train employees with skillsets perfectly in line with their business requirements.

“A fortunate by-product of this approach is that apprenticeships promote employee loyalty and reduce turnover. 76% of employers who train existing employees as apprentices reported improved staff retention, for example.”

How can underrepresented groups and individuals be better supported and encouraged to pursue tech careers?

[SB] “First of all, companies need to take a look at their current workforce across a number of demographics, including but not limited to: race, gender, sexual orientation, disability and social class, and understand how they are performing not just against their competitors, but against the sector and workforce as a whole.

“Visibility is a must, which extends to having diverse people within your senior leadership team, providing role models and mentors for those looking to grow within your business. It’s also crucial to liaise with community groups such as the Black Young Professionals network to understand the barriers to entry and their requirements of an employer, rather than making assumptions around what will appeal to them.”

[FB] “We need to demystify the tech sector to attract diverse talent. This has to start at a grassroots level, in education. ‘Computer Science’ needs a rebrand. We need to broaden the curriculum to celebrate and communicate the exciting career opportunities available in technology.

“We need to make the tech industry more understood – and more accessible. Accessibility benefits everybody, and that includes making day-to-day work accessible for people with caring responsibilities, different physical abilities and neurodiversity. The brands and businesses that are excelling in the area of accessibility go beyond the ‘mandatories’ or guidelines. They are true thought-leaders who deserve to attract the best talent. At AND, this is our focus.”

How can governments and policymakers contribute to narrowing the tech skills gap at a national or regional level?

[CS] “Governments and policymakers can make a significant difference by investing and increasing funding in STEM education programmes from elementary school to higher education, as well as promoting vocational and technical training programmes that teach practical tech skills needed by industries such as coding and computer science.

“Another way is to promote apprenticeship programmes that combine on-the-job training with classroom instruction, to showcase that there are varied routes to a career in the tech industry. Part of this is supporting underrepresented groups by developing policies that promote diversity and inclusion in tech education and employment, with a focus on underrepresented groups. Another way is to collaborate with not-for-profit to align funds with the work they are doing, provide students with education and provide resources in this area.”

[SN] “According to the OECD, employees with only basic education already face higher risks of unemployment than their peers with higher education. As employment depends on whether individuals possess the knowledge and skills to meet the requirements of the labour market, the increasing use of technology in the workplace implies that the development of digital skills is therefore crucial to keep up with employment standards.

“Today’s youth are entering the workplace faced with challenges such as the digital skills divide. And the existing digital skills gap continues to widen due to several contributing factors such as rapidly evolving technology, gaps in the educational system and a lack of investment from organisations in employees’ learning and development programmes. Without the adequate technological education, young people, and especially underserved youth from lower socio-economic backgrounds in a particularly vulnerable situation, risk to face an extra burden when entering the labour market.

“In fact, according to the World Economic Forum, 60% of workers will require AI training before 2027, but only half have access to adequate training. We must therefore ensure that young people are taught technological skills and the basics of AI before they enter the labour market. This will help to bridge the skills gap, increase young people’s employability, and tackle AI anxiety.”

[KV] “One way the government could support the industry on a national scale is to create an alliance of industry leaders and large organisations to facilitate communication around tech skills and the digital skills gap.

“One limitation that educators currently face is that we must wait for the full release of updates to essential IT infrastructure before receiving any information about them. This means that our curriculums regularly become outdated whilst we work on adapting them for the latest updates. I believe that if big-tech providers were to give educators with a roadmap for their updates ahead of their release, we could ensure always curriculums stay relevant to the latest essential software. This is a key area where educators need to be further supported.”

What are the future trends and challenges in addressing the tech skills gap, and how can we prepare for them?

[DH] “I predict an increased global competition for tech talent, with employers looking abroad to fill highly skilled vacancies if the talent pools here in the UK do not meet their standard. To prepare and ensure we can attract and retain the very best in the industry here in the UK, STEM businesses must prioritise agility and adaptability in educational programs, whilst continuing to work with education providers from primary school up to tailor learning to the industry’s needs. This can ensure the future workforce is equipped to bridge the tech skills gap effectively.”

[FB] “The elephant in the room here is due to skills shortages, tech skills become expensive for businesses, and harder for the public sector to fund. If we don’t close the gap, we are perpetuating a world where people can demand more money and reward due to shortages. If we don’t see major investment in upskilling and digital skills training we will stunt our economy longer term.

“Something that is fundamental to that is addressing the growing challenge of businesses’ understanding of the tech skills gap. We were surprised to find, by our own research last year, a widespread misunderstanding of what digital skills actually means. Over a third (35%) of respondents to the AND Digital skills gap report believe digital skills means the ability to fix IT issues. There are some fundamental misunderstandings that need to be addressed.”

[TM] “We’re going to start to see a stronger focus on technical skills, a commitment to diversifying talent pipelines and an increase in adapting to the technical complexity in the industry. To prepare for these trends and challenges, individuals and organisations alike must invest in ongoing technical education and training, making it more accessible and inclusive for all. This proactive approach will help bridge the skills gap and ensure a more diverse and innovative workforce.”

Ultimately, your business can close the skills gap with a multi-channel approach to recruitment and training. Looking further afield than your company would normally may open new productive recruitment avenues. Looking inward for potential upskilling opportunities is tried and proven. Your business must become agile and be able to innovate at speed. Being creative with how your company approaches gaining the skills it needs will lead to a diverse and productive workforce.

David Howell

Dave Howell is a freelance journalist and writer. His work has appeared across the national press and in industry-leading magazines and websites. He specialises in technology and business. Read more about Dave on his website: Nexus Publishing.

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