Michael Olaye, the CEO of digital creative agency Dare, frankly discusses the talent deficit within the tech industry and explains how you can sidestep the ensuing fracas.
Technology is the driving force behind the world’s economy. Without it, we would collapse; most things would take longer to implement and potentially cost more.
Technology increases efficiency in just about every major sector, creating new products, services and – more often than not in this millennium – completely new industries and jobs.
Everyone from IT consultants to Kraftwerk, to Apple’s entire workforce, owe their careers to technology. But now, it seems that the technology well is running somewhat dry.
There is a drought of new talent in tech – not for want of great minds but, rather, a worrying lack of knowledge transfer or the learning of new skills for today and the future.
In schools, colleges and universities, there is a distinct shortage of holistic thinking in terms of technology understanding. Students are being taught how to code and use tools, but the bigger picture doesn’t seem to be on the curriculum.
There’s a real incongruity between what computer science and IT grads are taught, and what businesses will actually need in the future. We must make sure the next generation thinks beyond just the practical aspect of doing something.
At the moment, most are not being prepared with the correct skills needed to thrive in the ever-evolving workplace they’ll be entering. Many computer science graduates still struggle to get a decent job.
This isn’t something that will go away on its own – we need to address it now. In the UK, we’ve seen a steady decline in the IT and technology sector. The current boomer generation is nearing retirement and feeling the pressure of today’s ageist tech environment.
New workers just aren’t coming through. In 2014, the ‘Tech Nation’ visa was introduced, offering overseas workers a chance to take on our isle’s jobs.
Earlier this year, it extended its right to endorse up to 250 visas – a sign of both Brexit woes and the stark lack of suitable talent on home soil.
So, realistically, how can we actually combat this deficiency of UK talent? We have some great programmes such as Code Club, which trains 9-13-year-olds how to code, for free; and the Tech Partnership, an employer network with the aim of delivering skills for 1m digital jobs by 2025.
These initiatives are vital, as just 1.6pc of A-levels taken are for IT or computing, resulting in only 7pc of working digital specialists being under 24.
Computing needs to be pushed at an earlier stage in the curriculum, essentially. It’s all well and good showing 13-year-olds how to fill in an Excel spreadsheet, but it needs to be taken a step further. Tell them why they’re doing something, what it can be applied to and how far you can take it in the various realms of employment.
By telling them that they’re doing things for a certain purpose, nothing else, is why we’re in this situation. Show them the boundaries and tell them they can be broken – that way it’s enticing, engaging and, most importantly, completely true.
We must create a mindset for upcoming talent that shows them innovation can be interactive, and that failure with learning their craft is not the end, but a junction.
That’s what the school system should be doing. But what about the tech world? Because pickings are slim and competition is high. A tech talent war is currently happening and will get worse in the very near future, and it seems that the only way to win is by investing in training future prospects.
Young graduates are being muscled out of IT and telecommunications slots, with this sector having one of the biggest cuts in grad schemes in the UK last year, despite the urgent need for fresh talent. If the opportunities aren’t there, graduates simply can’t get onto the ladder; there are almost five times more vacancies available in accounting and professional services, for example.
Grad schemes need to be more readily available for tech students, and they need to be extensive. Much like how schools should adapt, they would benefit tenfold from showing grads how they can apply their skills in the tech industry as a whole, rather than just using tech as an ancillary utensil to make money for one particular business.
Because, going forward, they will need to adapt. We’ve been seeing these juicy sorts of headlines for years now: ‘The job your child will have doesn’t exist yet.’
It’s painfully relevant now, arguably more than ever, as technology becomes further integrated into our personal and working lives.
The tech talent shortage poses an existential threat – not only to the industry, but our ability as human beings to advance our societies and improve our living standards.
Michael Olaye is the chief executive officer at Dare, a digital creative agency based in London, UK.