Is short-sightedness fuelling the tech skills shortage?

The tech industry is suffering a skills shortage. There isn’t a high enough supply of skilled technology workers to meet sector-wide demand – from cybersecurity, to software development, to big data management. The question is why?

The tech skills shortage is, of course, a nuanced and complicated issue. It’s in part down to the pressing issue of a lack of diversity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers. It’s aggravated by rampant ageism in development jobs. The rapidly changing nature of technology is another obvious factor.

But there is also a simpler driving force behind the struggle for tech specialists; one that is often overlooked. Is short-sightedness fuelling the tech skills shortage?

The tech skills shortage

Only 11% of employers think the tech skills shortage is nothing to worry about when it comes to hiring this year. That leaves a massive 89% with some concern about a lack of tech talent.

Last year, a study by specialist recruitment consultancy Robert Walters found that 70% of employers in the tech industry experienced the brunt of the tech skills shortage. It showed that almost a quarter of employers expect a skills shortage to greatly impact their recruitment. But, the most telling revelation is that more than half of employers find candidates lack the right technical skills to do the job required.

So, is there really no talent out there?

The role of learning in tech

The tech industry is unique in that is moves and changes at a fast pace. There’s always something new coming. For that reason, ongoing learning is a huge part of any tech-related role. Indeed, a programmer’s work is never done. Finishing one task only creates several more resulting tasks around maintenance and optimisation.

This pace drives the need to keep skills refreshed and up to date. Then there’s the need to learn from experience. For example, through mentoring and communication. Not to mention the need to learn company-specific practices and procedures.

All this means that learning is deeply ingrained in tech jobs. So much so, in fact, that expecting to find candidates who don’t need learning time is unreasonable. No one can know everything — there’s no such thing as a lone tech genius, after all.

Short-sightedness

Despite its importance, many tech workplaces downplay the value of learning. A full two-thirds of tech professionals think companies need to be more open to transferrable skills. The offset of this poor employer attitude is able and suitable applicants facing rejection for not having obscure (but learnable) specialised knowledge.

The problem, in part, seems to be that there is a shortage of so-called ‘qualified’ talent. Yet the problem persists even for those that do hold a coveted ‘qualified’ title. For instance, computer science graduates are one of the largest groups of unemployed graduates. To add salt to the wound, even qualified talent becomes stale without ongoing learning.

So, it isn’t quite so simple as to say that the tech skills shortage is due to a lack of talent in technology. Employers, and their lack of foresight in candidate potential, also play a role.

Further consequences

Narrow-mindedness towards learning is doing more than aggravating the skills gap. When no learning whatsoever can happen at work, it leads to three negatives. Namely, a poor workplace atmosphere, wasted resources, and an unsatisfying work-life balance.

Team members are less likely to ask for help when it’s needed. So, younger talent must do everything by trial and error, rather than learning from experienced team members. No learning also means no opportunity to adapt and learn better practices. This, as a result, forces teams to waste time reinventing the wheel over and over.

Even when companies recognise that technology jobs need ongoing education, all is not well. Many expect all learning to happen outside of work hours. Developers often will learn and code in their free time. But, when all (compulsory) learning is ‘out-of-hours’, your team get no personal time — they’re always playing catch up.

In fact, 32% of technology professionals find the tech work-life balance on offer unsatisfactory. This leads to stress, fatigue, and the message that a career in tech means no personal life.

Changing for a cure

So, how can we improve? Solving the short-sighted approach to tech candidate suitability is as simple as welcoming and encouraging learning in the workplace.

When it comes to hiring, redefine what makes a good candidate. Remember that the right talent might not yet have every niche bit of knowledge that you’re looking for. So, look for transferrable skills. For example, problem-solving, communication, and willingness to learn.

Look for passionate people and see the value in experience. Don’t disregard older talent or education routes other than university, either. You could also consider apprenticeships. That is, offer the opportunity to become qualified while working with you. It gives you the chance to teach new developers the exact skills you’re looking for.

In the workplace, allow team members time to learn from each other and from their mistakes. Encourage mentoring and collaboration, and dedicate time to learning. Offer training and look to upskill your talented team members.

Don’t perpetuate the tech skills shortage

The tech skills gap isn’t going to disappear overnight. It needs time, it needs more people of all backgrounds to pursue careers in STEM. It also needs us to stop being short-sighted and recognise the value of continuous learning in technology roles.

Supporting on-the-job learning creates a collaborative, supportive atmosphere. It improves work-life balance and the perception of working in tech. And that must be a step in the right direction to closing the tech skills gap.

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Niamh Reed is a copywriter for Parker Software – a UK software house specialising in providing business process automation and live chat software worldwide.