Human Resources

UK firms must start tackling their tech talent troubles now: here’s how

By Jeremy Tipper, Director of Consulting & Innovation, Alexander Mann Solutions
Human Resources
Published: 13 February 2017

Business owners in non-traditional technology fields (take manufacturing, pharmaceutical or transport, for example) can perhaps be forgiven for not having tech talent acquisition at the top of their agenda. However, in a world where digital is integrated into everything we do, from ordering taxis and arranging a GP appointment to liaising with global networks and interviewing potential new hires, having the best tech professional on your payroll should now be a priority.

However, it’s undeniable that there’s a real shortage of these skills in the UK. In fact, the latest reports from The Tech Partnership – a network of employers working to create skills for the UK’s digital economy – revealed that tech skills shortages remain prevalent across the country, particularly in the capital where there’s just 0.4 ‘ready to work’ candidates for each advertised digital role.
And while the parameters of Brexit are yet to be defined, we now know that freedom of movement will be impacted in some way. Given that the gap in supply and demand for tech talent is currently being plugged by the ability to source experts from across borders, a firm’s ability to adapt to new technology developments will be severely inhibited post-Article 50, potentially damaging its competitive abilities. While the Prime Minister has made skills a key focus of her industrial strategy policy, the fact that this is a historical issue means it simply can’t be assumed that quick progress will be made – if any is made at all.

Added to this, firms from beyond the tech sphere will face a challenge when it comes to battling with the likes of Google, Amazon and Facebook who often invest rather hefty budgets in creating an office environment that appeals to digital talent. Indeed, such firms are well-known for their rather extravagant and creative environments, not to mention commitment to on-going tech specific training and development schemes.
So just how can firms from a non-traditional tech background compete with these heavyweights in an already tough market in order to attract and retain the digital talent required to grow and thrive in the coming months and years?

Think retention before attraction
For those companies with some form of existing tech talent – even if it’s a limited resource – the first step is to set up your defences in order to keep hold of what you already have. Remember, given the tough recruitment market, you’ll not only be competing for new external skills, but also your current professionals. In order to ensure you’re not losing those who you’ve already invested in, it’s important to have clear development plans that are tailored to their specific skills and interests. This includes developing a robust career progression plan that’s personalised for your digital experts, even if this role is still relatively new to your company.

To really highlight this point, it’s perhaps safe to assume that millennials form a significant proportion of the tech talent pool – after all, they are the ‘digital generation’. According to a recent PwC Millennials at Work report, 52% of these individuals rate career progression over high salaries in their employment. Focusing on developing such structured plans, then, is a must.

This approach will also be beneficial in the longer term. Having already developed a retention strategy that is specifically designed to keep tech talent in the business for a lengthy period, companies will be in a much stronger position when it comes to attracting such individuals.

Create a digital friendly brand
Following on from my first tactic, it’s important to build an employer brand that’s appealing to tech experts. While of course very few businesses will have – or invest – the resources that the likes of Google and Facebook do, there are small changes that can be made that will be both beneficial for talent attraction and the company’s overall reputation. For example, there’s been a real shift of late to a ‘consumerisation’ of the hiring processes. By this I mean that candidates now expect a recruitment experience akin to that of a consumer. As such, they are more susceptible to story-telling (through video case studies or photo sharing on social media platforms, for example) and are hungry for engaging, personalised content both on and offline.

Investing resources – either existing or newly sourced – in revamping your employer profile will be worth it in the long run and, perhaps more importantly, will also add value to the organisation’s bottom line figures. Considering that a study from the World Economic Forum revealed that more than 25% of a company’s market value is directly attributed to its reputation, it’s clear that this activity is a must.

Consider existing skills
While your firm might not perhaps be entrenched in the tech arena, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t already home to those with an interest in digital. It’s become such a huge part of our lives both in and out of work that chances are, some of your employees are interested in re-training in this field. While some could view this as a negative (after all it would be creating another gap in the company) the benefits are numerous.

If an individual is already considering such a career move, failure to capitalise on this could see an already engaged individual exit the business. By retraining them for a digital position, a firm will benefit from not only filling a much needed tech skills gap, but also a limited impact on resources – both in terms of time and money – that you would expect from making two completely new hires.

Review apprenticeship options
In the longer term, apprenticeships are an option that should be seriously considered. Given that digital skills are in such high demand, engaging with individuals at the earliest possible stage in their career will help a company significantly.

Of course given the apprenticeship levy that is due to come into force this year, there will be some firms that will have to invest in such a scheme. For those that do not fall into the remit for this, though, it’s important not to rule the option out. Yes it will involve an upfront investment in training, but the long term benefits cannot be overlooked.

Use tools to your advantage
Finally, making the most of available tools and analytics is, quite simply, a must. Resourcing and people management strategies need to be built on a foundation of critical supply and demand information in order to have the desired impact. It’s confounding, then, that so many companies do not utilise workforce analytics at all levels of the business.

By collecting hard statistics on existing skills (digital or otherwise) and cross referencing this data with future requirements and expected people losses, a firm can map out a clear picture of the business. Only in doing this will it be possible to identify cross-training opportunities and plan for any potential skills shortage threats.