Man jumping over chasm against ruby sunset. Is the tech talent gap actually getting worse with time?
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Is the tech talent gap actually getting worse with time?

9 Aug 2018

Despite efforts on multiple fronts to address the tech talent gap, is it possible that the issue is only deteriorating with time?

Any discussion within the tech HR community will almost inevitably pivot towards arguably the most pressing issue these professionals face: the tech talent gap.

Many companies have come up with innovative ways to address the talent gap in the hopes of staving off the myriad problems that arise when demand for certain skills greatly outstrips supply.

Mastercard, for example, devised a returnship programme to tackle the drop-off of professional women mid-career which is often attributed to issues that can arise for women when they become a parent.

Meanwhile, other companies are opting for tech apprenticeships, allowing them to select candidates with the necessary soft skills and then provide them with the training.

The push to better promote diversity within the tech community is at least partially motivated by the desire to get more people to learn highly sought-after skills. Organisations like Teen-Turn arrange for teenage girls from disadvantaged backgrounds to complete internships with tech companies so they can better visualise going into those fields after secondary school.

Yet despite all this, is it possible that the tech talent gap is only getting worse?

Our survey says yes

Last year, a report jointly released by LinkedIn and French professional services firm Capgemini found that 55pc of the 1,250 workers and leaders they surveyed felt the ‘digital talent gap’ was widening in their organisation. More than half of those surveyed specifically namechecked the ‘hard digital skills gap’, meaning skills in areas such as cybersecurity, cloud computing, UX design and analytics are in short supply.

Furthermore, 54pc say that this widening gap is hamstringing their digital transformation programmes and that their firm has lost its competitive edge as a result of the lack of available skills. These findings align with a 2017 PwC survey which found that 77pc of HR directors believe the tech talent gap is a threat to their business.

What’s the problem?

So, why this disconnect? You can’t say that companies aren’t aware that there’s a talent shortage. There are efforts being made, clearly, to bring new people into the fold. So how come organisations still feel they’re at a loss?

For one, these programmes being implemented need time to take effect. This is especially true of ones that encourage people to pursue third-level STEM studies, simply because those candidates will not be entering the working world for at least another few years.

Additionally, the problem could lie in the fact that, in many cases, the rate at which new jobs are being created outpaces the number of new graduates. This could still be because not enough people are opting to do STEM, but could also be blamed on the breathless expansion that tech companies are undergoing.

Areas such as AI, machine learning and data science are, in particular, growing rapidly. Yet they are so new that it’s difficult to find an expert in those fields.

It is sometimes the case, as data scientist Vin Vashishta has pointed out, that companies are asking for levels of experience in data science that are practically impossible to achieve. Undoubtedly, this is happening in other emerging areas.

The salary quandary

Companies could be making these impossible demands of prospective employees in order to justify the eye-watering salaries that cybersecurity, data science and machine learning professionals can command due to their rarity.

The economic principle of supply and demand means that hot-commodity professions carry massive price tags. This is an undeniable and uncomfortable fact for many firms which realise that these salaries will begin eating into profits. In order to make the investment worthwhile, they ask for enough qualifications that the high-salary employees are still value-for-money.

It’s a good idea in theory for the higher-ups, but in practice means that companies create job adverts that practically no professional can fill. They hitch their wagon to this unicorn employee and then fret when projects get delayed because they can’t find the right people.

Asking companies to be less ambitious, however, isn’t exactly an option. Nobody is going to sacrifice their expansion plans in such a deeply competitive market.

Start training

The solution is nested in the aforementioned Linkedin/Capgemini survey. In it, it is revealed that 42pc of employees feel their in-house training programmes are “useless and boring”, to the point that employees are often reaching into their own pockets to gain necessary skills to keep pace with their colleagues.

Why is this? Why is it that organisations that are seemingly terrified of an impending talent shortage can simultaneously have employees who want to upskill but aren’t being afforded the necessary resources?

Is it because industry leaders have investors that need to be kept happy and, as such, can’t dip into profits to develop skills training schemes properly? Is it not, arguably, pointless to keep profits intact if your organisation lacks the people needed to make dreams of expansion a reality?

Often within the discourse about the tech talent gap, implicit blame is put on individual employees who aren’t going into the right fields or developing the right skills. Yet perhaps the onus should be taken off employees and put instead on employers whose talent woes may be, in some ways, of their own making.

Eva Short
By Eva Short

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic, specialising in the areas of tech, data privacy, business, cybersecurity, AI, automation and future of work, among others.

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