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Will the IT skills gap become a chasm if businesses don't take action now?

There is a shortfall in vital IT skills
There is a shortfall in vital IT skills

Back at the beginning of 2009, not long after the start of the financial crisis, the UN's International Telecommunications Union (ITU) released a report stating that although the recession would test many businesses, it would also rejuvenate the industry and allow "new entrants with new technologies to thrive".

Indeed, a recent report from KPMG has revealed that the UK tech sector has seen its best growth performance in almost a decade, and due to this growth many UK tech firms plan to hire more staff over the coming year.

But where will these talented and adept individuals required to drive the recovery come from? There has been talk of a skills gap in our technology sector for years, but now that an improved growth forecast is boosting recruitment, this topic is intensifying as a real issue.

How big is the gap?

Businesses are struggling to source IT and computing workers who are equipped with the right skills and highly competent with the latest technologies. Yet what is the extent of this issue, what types of skills are in short supply, and is this really holding tech companies back?

In an attempt to uncover the extent of the current IT skills gap in the UK, Reconnix commissioned an independent study to provide a complete view of the issues affecting both employers and prospective employees. The results, while stark, will serve as a warning for the UK IT industry, but will also be the source of some optimism.

100 IT decision makers from both the public and private sectors were surveyed and a worrying 74% have disclosed that they are experiencing difficulties when recruiting technically qualified employees. As the IT industry is growing and innovating, businesses need a comprehensive set of abilities to thrive in the competitive arena. The technical roles they are struggling to fill such as web application developers, internet and networking professionals and data analysts, will hit progress hard.

With 63% of businesses finding it harder to recruit for their IT department over other areas of their business, it comes as no surprise that over half industry professionals (54%) are feeling that UK innovations are suffering. In another report by KPMG, the UK was placed with China and the US as a top technology revenue growth market. To keep up with competing countries, we need to be boosting new innovations through the employment of talented individuals.

Building a bridge

In order to keep our prosperous state and continue growth and development to rival our foreign counterparts, the IT skills gap must be bridged, and fast. We have an ever growing population; can we turn to the workers of tomorrow to keep our industry going?

A high number of employers grumble about the lack of suitable skilful applicants entering the job market and yet there appears to be a good level of confidence amongst IT students in terms of securing a job.

The study surveyed 250 IT students and qualified graduates to help understand the vital role that training and education can have in the skills arena. Out of those currently studying IT and those who have recently completed their studies, an optimistic 58% said they felt confident in finding work within the technology sector, compared to a small 5% who are considering changing their career path.

A positive and enthusiastic outlook from the new blood in the industry is very encouraging. However, the study has uncovered a significant disconnection between the type of skills businesses require and what is being taught in our universities and higher education institutes.

Instead, a surprising two-thirds of employers (73%) believe that apprenticeships offer a better basis for those entering IT rather than other educational courses, whereas the opinion of many students differs completely. They have it instilled in them from a young age that government backed education is incredibly important for a successful future, yet for a sector that is developing so fast, the skills universities teach are in danger of becoming quickly outdated.