With the potential for mass redundancies across many businesses, what skills should you gain to land a new job? Silicon UK considers the tech job landscape and asks how this might change in a post COVID world.
What does the tech jobs landscape look like through the lens of COVID-19? Two reports make for telling reading for workers and employers alike: Gartner surveyed 172 HR leaders and concluded 52% reported their organization’s business operations are continuing at a reduced level due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, according to another Gartner survey of 113 learning and development leaders, 71% said that more than 40% of their workforce has had to use new skills as a result of changes to work due to COVID-19.
“Many organizations have entered the recovery phase and are focused on stabilizing the business and restarting activity,” said Mark Whittle, vice president of advisory in the Gartner HR practice. “HR leaders will play a critical role during this period. However, they continue to face uncertainty around several key issues, including equipping leaders to manage remote teams over the long haul, preserving company culture with a more remote workforce, and engaging workers in a cost-constrained environment.”
In the second report from Forrester, ‘The Future Of The European Job Market, which highlights the main drivers of the shift to a more dynamic European job market by 2030; how this transformation is accelerated by COVID-19; and how job eliminations and skills shortages will lead to booming job markets and employment wastelands in Europe.
The key findings of the report include: Digital twins and robots will play a significant role in manufacturing; AI and blockchain will be central to financial services; while 5G will be highly relevant to the media sector. The impact of technologies on the tech job market is a blend of job losses, job creation, and job transformation.
Employees will depend less on a corporate office: By 2030, home working will be the norm for most white-collar jobs; working from a corporate office will be the exception. Lower-skilled workers won’t disappear: The number of structured physical jobs will decline, while roles requiring empathy and emotional intelligence will increase.
And independent professionals and freelancers will benefit from more social protection: The number of part-time and independent professionals is increasing in Europe, rising from 7.7 million in 2008 to 9.6 million in 2015. To create a dynamic tech job market, Europe’s governments must find the right balance between enshrining social protection for every job and allowing individuals freedom.
The digitization of business continues, but how will these roadmaps change? And what impact will COVID-19 have? Writing in the Lloyds Bank UK Consumer Digital Index 2020 Debbie Forster MBE, CEO, Tech Talent Charter comments: “Events like COVID-19 bring sharply into focus the fact that the digital skills gap impacts not just individuals themselves but our companies and our society as a whole. These stats provide an invaluable ‘before COVID-19’ baseline that will have improved, but which now must be a launching point for new growth for the safety and benefit of all. Digital skills are not just a ‘nice to have’ but are essential to survive and thrive. Our ‘new normal’ must include digital inclusion for all.”
How and where to learn has also changed thanks to COVID-19. At the beginning of July, Microsoft announced its global skills initiative that aims to develop the digital skills of 25 million people across the world.
The initiative will have three components: The use of data to identify in-demand tech jobs and the skills needed to fill them. Free access to learning paths and content to help people develop the skills these positions require. And, low-cost certifications and free tech job-seeking tools to help people who develop these skills pursue new tech jobs.
How training will be delivered is also rapidly evolving. According to a new report from PwC, using Virtual Reality can be a highly useful tool to learn new skills. The research concluded: V-learn, using virtual reality to train employees on various skills, was more effective than the classroom and e-learn training modalities at teaching soft-skills concepts.
The V-learners were up to 275% more confident to act on what they learned after training – a 40% improvement over classroom and 35% improvement over e-learn. V-learners were up to four times more focused than e-learners. They completed training on average four times faster than classroom training and 1.5 times faster than e-learn. V-learners were 3.75 times more emotionally connected to the content than classroom learners and 2.3 times more connected than e-learners. On top of those benefits, v-learn was estimated to be more cost-effective than classroom or e-learning modalities when delivered at scale.
With the latest employment figures showing that 649,000 fewer people in the UK were employed in June compared with March when lockdown began, Ironhack has looked at a range of Google searches for tech-based learning to highlight how many people are looking to upskill or career change into tech roles.
The results show a significant rise in searches when compared with 2019, with UI/UX the most in-demand skills on the list, increasing by a huge 62% and 56% respectively. Tech training and skills search increases (based on searches for courses and training): User interface (UI): +62%, User experience (UX): +56%, Data analytics: +37%, Software engineer: +36% and Web developer: +27%
What skills will be needed in a post-COVID-19 tech jobs market? According to SHL coding skills and Figma are most sought-after in the UK. Coding skills are paid exceptionally well, with PL/SQL rewarded by the highest average salary (£70,797). Tech jobs that demand knowledge of the popular cloud-based design program Figma also offer an impressive average salary of £59,439.
The kind of tech jobs SHL highlight is what Deloitte calls soft-skill-intensive occupations. “Soft skills are also referred to as employability skills, enterprise skills and they are transferable between industries and occupations,” their report says. “They include things like communication, teamwork, and problem-solving, as well as emotional judgement, professional ethics and global citizenship.”
What is abundantly clear is all employees will have to expand their digital skills to remain relevant to their employers. Data literacy, AI, data analytics and the ability to communicate using multiple digital devices is the new skillset of a post-COVID-19 worker. If you want to check your own ‘digital fitness’ PwC has created an app.
“For those who gain time in the day because they now work remotely and no longer have to factor in a commute, there’s an opportunity to use the time to gain new skills,” advises the World Economic Forum. “If you have been displaced or lost your job as a result of COVID-19, this offers a way to round out your skills and increase your employability.
“At the same time, you’ve probably learned new skills to continue doing your job without leaving home. In the weeks of quarantine, you’ve likely had to bring different skills to your work: managing time to get work done and tend to others who are quarantined with you. Whatever reserves of resilience you have will likely have been tested – and you can draw on that as you move forward.”
In 2016, Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, coined the term “new-collar” to define a new kind hybrid white-collar and blue-collar worker. This blurring of roles could become more commonplace as enterprises change how they approach recruitment and the tech jobs they have available. As worker return, how they work will change forever. Hays recently surveyed over 13,000 employers and discovered over half (55%) of staff would have new working practices with part remote and part office-based working becoming the norm. The skills this new hybrid working environment will need are also being defined.
New entrants to the world of work also need to be considered. Indeed, research from Tech London Advocates has launched an Education Resource Hub that is mapping the digital skills ecosystem in the UK and will collate information, advice and resources for educators, young people, parents and employers looking to access digital skills.
Last year alone, the Office for National Statistics revealed that 10% of the UK population had no digital skills. With workers operating remotely and digital playing a greater role in citizen’s day-to-day lives, those without the necessary skills will suffer further disadvantages.
Jo Tasker, Managing Director, Jo Tasker Consulting and co-lead of TLA Education Group, Comments: “The UK has everything it needs to create a workforce equipped with the digital skills required to meet the continued demand for tech jobs across the country. However, digital skills courses, digital apprenticeships and edtech tools are hard to find for those unfamiliar with the sector. The TLA Education Resource Hub aims to bring all of the programmes offered in the UK in one place for the first time.
“To drive the economic recovery, we need to give schools, young people, parents and employers access to the resources they need as quickly and simply as possible. That’s why we’re making resources, advice and practical guidance about how to develop digital skills accessible and easy to understand.”
Also, Siân Harrington, Co-founder and editorial director, The Peoples Space told Silicon UK: “European Commission figures in 2017 found that 37% of workers in Europe didn’t even have basic digital skills. All businesses I speak to say they cannot fill their IT/digital positions. So much work still has to be done to upskill people in the digital arena.
“One thing that has been highlighted by the pandemic is that people are more able to change faster than many employers believed. It has shown the employees can pivot and grasp new technologies and behaviours quickly, such as video conferencing like Zoom and collaborative platforms like Microsoft Teams, and online learning. So perhaps the issue does not lie with the employees but the fact employers are not investing enough in learning and upskilling in these areas.”
With Craig Freedberg, associate director, Robert Half Technology UK pointing to a rapid evolution in business processes: “We are seeing employers considering a raft of new ideas, ways of working and options to reimage their businesses in a post-COVID-19 world. As government initiatives for apprenticeships are being incentivized, I’m sure businesses will consider them in part of the mix to attract and retain a strong pipeline of technology talent.”
Businesses have been on their digitization journey for several years. COVID-19 simply accelerated some of these developments but also revealed where digital skills were lacking across their enterprises.
The tech skills needed today are a reaction to the pandemic, but also an evolution of existing plans. Workers clearly need new skill sets to ensure they can navigate a post-COVID-19 working landscape. Businesses grappling with the new business normal should place education and training at the centre of their COVID planning.
Silicon in Focus
Sarah Danzl, HR and Skills expert, Degreed.
Can you outline what you think the leading technology jobs will be in the future? The Cloud, AI, Robotics, IoT, Big Data Analysts all seem to be developing?
Organizations and workers alike will need different skill sets to succeed in the future. Demand for technological skills, like data analysis and programming skills, will continue to increase dramatically in the next decade. This won’t just be annexed to tech jobs. Everyone will need a certain level of digital literacy to succeed.
As automation starts taking on much of the manual legwork, workers will be freed up for more value-added tasks. By 2028, this high-value work will centre on cognitive skills, such as creativity, being able to think critically, process complex situations and make decisions. This will also mean rising demand for social and emotional skills, which cannot be easily replicated by machines.
Finally, new jobs will emerge as our society adapts to digital transformation, the impact of COVID, and other macro trends. Contact tracers and temperature screeners are already becoming commonplace. Roles like cybercity analysts augmented reality architects and robot dispatchers may be next.
Then there are changes to the work environment, as the introduction of robots on-site or mass remote working. Here, employers will have to ensure their workers are able to adapt to a new set-up, with the right skills, and emotional support for significant changes.
Has the pandemic highlighted the digital skills gap that many had thought had closed?
In response to the pandemic, many businesses have been forced to pivot their strategy or rethink their core business, requiring different skills from workers. While extreme cases might have seen engineering firms starting making ventilators or 3D printing firms making protective equipment, we’ve also seen front of house staff at banks or retailers shifting to working in contact centre roles.
The current crisis has made clear the need for digital skills in every role. Microsoft has reported seeing “two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months” during the pandemic. Building the right digital skills now, or a plan to make them in the near future will ensure organizations thrive over the coming years instead of having their market share hindered for decades.
To build the skills they need for the future, businesses need an accurate picture of their skills gap. Yet more than a third (34%) of workers say their manager doesn’t know what skills they have, so businesses don’t have all the information they need to make informed decisions.
This means the potential to lose skilled workers if companies are forced to make redundancies without full information on their people’s skills. Businesses also risk reduced productivity if existing workers aren’t utilizing their skills to their fullest.
To solve this, leaders must develop a common framework for naming and measuring skills in the organization. Once you have complete oversight of your existing skills, leaders can ensure each worker can fully utilize them and develop new ones. Secondly, leaders should create a short-term skills plan. Focus on the digital skills you will need in three to five years and, ensure these maps to the current business strategy.
How will workers have to adapt to ensure they can obtain the tech jobs of the future?
As Peter Drucker famously said, “The only skill that will be important in the 21st century is the skill of learning new skills. Everything else will become obsolete over time.”
Workers will need to continually build new skills and invest in learning to obtain the technology jobs of the future. This means a shift away from seeing a degree or formal qualification as the definitive measure of skills. Instead, this should be seen as a foundation to build upon over time. Workers might have completed their degree a decade ago, yet when hiring, we still use this as a measure of their current capabilities. If someone had completed a marathon ten years ago, you would not expect them to be able to run one now. Yet this is the same standard we use to judge outdated qualifications.
Moving to a culture of always-on learning requires two things: First, leaders should make learning accessible at all times, using the platforms and devices people are already using at work. We can no longer rely on full-day training courses, once or twice a year to keep skills evolving. Learning leaders will have to consider new ways to rapidly build digital skills within their workforce, from virtual courses and learning pathways to user-generated content. Secondly, on-the-job learning is vital to reinforce theoretical learning and develop practical skills. Our research has shown workers prefer to learn on-the-job and through their work colleagues.
Are future tech jobs based on more flexible or freelance working?
We believe that workplace learning is the future, particularly amid the rapid pace of change in the business world. As artificial intelligence and machine learning take over more of the physical and rote skills of today’s workers, uniquely human abilities such as emotional intelligence, empathy, creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving will become even more critical. All of these are skills that can be developed throughout a career.
We will see a shift towards jobs being measured in outputs and how you get a task done, not hours spent in the office. This will mean the ‘death’ of the 9-5 in many ways. As long as people generate the right outputs (i.e., app updates launched, sales leads, customer satisfaction), then who cares about the time they spend at a desk? Or when they complete that work, and whether they are permanent or contracted?
This will cause jobs to move away from defined roles and towards project and task-based work, with teams rapidly formed around what needs to be done, based on the skills required.
This will fuel the continued rise of the on-demand workforce, with companies relying on alumni, freelancers and contractors with specialist skills to complete tasks. Amazon, Domino’s Pizza, and UPS are some of the organizations who are hiring temporary and freelance workers to fulfil upticks in demand.
This style of working has been used to mobilize people during the pandemic. We’ve seen Vodafone moving workers from selling phones in branches to remote customer service roles, airlines shifting people to healthcare roles – the list goes on. Flexibility and mobility of workers have been key to keeping industries moving during the pandemic. The result has been a more responsive, robust and agile workforce, which is flexible by nature, that can quickly pivot to unexpected events, changing demand and new products.
Is the UK’s educational system teaching the right skills to equip young people who will be applying for the technology jobs of the future?
The education system, and our reliance on formal qualifications to assess skills, is outdated. By the time students are employed, their skills aren’t fully reflected by their qualifications, and decades-old qualifications don’t reflect workers’ current skills.
Many people are looking elsewhere to build their skills. Workers invest triple the amount of time developing skills on their own, compared to company-provided resources. The same could be said for students – how much time are they spending developing skills outside of their formal courses, and how do we capture this?
Having the right skills for the future will require continuous learning in the workplace, and workers know this with 69% of adults willing to learn new skills or completely retrain to ensure they remain in work. This figure jumps to 77% among 18-34 year-olds who must stay employable for longer.