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How upskilling can improve the shortage of software engineers

by | Dec 5, 2022

The figures are brutal: by 2026, the current global shortage of software engineers will have grown by more than 545,000. How can global economies and employers fill the gap? David Sapsted reports.

The route to 2026 is clear. Even by the start of 2022, job openings in India’s IT sector had more than doubled to 129,000. In the UK, vacancies topped 64,000, a 191 per cent rise over the year.

And it’s not just India and the UK that are affected by a growing mismatch between the tech skills needed and the pipeline creating them. According to a report from Amazon Web Services, the number of workers requiring digital skills in six Asia-Pacific countries – Singapore, Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, and South Korea – will increase five-fold in the next two years alone.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, research by the Floridabased DevOps Institute found that only 29 per cent of tech companies across the world had sufficient IT talent, with the most acute shortages being in cognitive, technical, and process and framework skills.

It is a problem being felt by every sector from fintech to pharma. The challenge of overcoming it is not proving easy. For many years, companies in the West relied on skilled immigration. Now, with demand for talent increasing in home countries and with salaries rising, it is not the default solution it once was. The extent to which India has been the source of much of this talent is illustrated by the fact that of the 407,071 H-1B petitions – primarily, visas for techies – approved by the US by the end of last year, 301,616 of them (74.1 per cent) had gone to Indians.

Responding to this, nations such as Australia and the UK have introduced their own high-potential tech visas, specifically aimed at attracting the digital talent they so badly need. But even they appreciate that the overseas talent pool is getting harder to tap, with the result that upskilling has become the new buzzword across industries and an organisational imperative because of the “dramatic” lack of sufficient IT talent worldwide, according to DevOps’ latest Upskilling IT report.

RETHINKING UPSKILLING

Research by the institute found that 52 per cent of global respondents said their organisations had adopted upskilling programmes this year. This compared to only 32 per cent in last year’s survey. And research for the 2022 Talent Trends report from Dutch global recruiters Randstad Sourceright, found that two-thirds of life sciences and pharma companies regarded upskilling and re-skilling current employees as effective ways of addressing the talent shortage.

A lot of the jobs that these
students will do in the future don’t even exist at this point – a lot of those
will be digital jobs.”

Tina Gotschi, Principal at ADA

Mike Smith, Global CEO of Randstad Sourceright, said that the life sciences and pharmaceuticals sectors had succeeded in tackling “tremendous pressure to deliver lifesaving innovations during the pandemic”. But he added:

“Now, the need for medical innovation has only grown, forcing organisations to compete across all industries for a limited supply of in-demand tech talent.

“Failing to win the race for those skills will be costly, but a strong focus on the talent experience; offering [a] purposeful workplace culture; maximising flexibility; and investing in diversity, equity and inclusion can help companies stand out. Re-skilling and upskilling talent will also be essential to combat talent scarcity and demonstrate how much organisations value their people.”

Yet aside from the pressing need for retraining or upskilling existing staff, there is an equally pressing need to attract young people to fill growing numbers of vacancies. And, according to a report on the Raconteur website over the summer:
“While graduate entry is still the most common path into the profession, universities around the world are not producing enough graduates to meet demand.”

The sector’s focus on graduates means the industry is missing out on a huge amount of untapped talent, according to James Barrett, Regional Director at recruitment consultancy Michael Page Technology.

There may have been a big shift in the number of IT apprenticeships and boot camps, he says, but they are still just scratching the surface.

In a bid to encourage young people in the UK, the National College for Digital Skills in London – named ‘Ada’ after 19th century mathematician Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, famed for her work on Charles Babbage’s mechanical computer – is pioneering the teaching of important tech subjects for teenagers.

The college encourages students towards core STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – that form the backbone of the tech industry. However, Tina Gotschi, Principal at Ada, told the BBC in July: “A lot of the jobs that these students will do in the future don’t even exist at this point – a lot of those will be digital jobs.

By making our training programmes available to a diverse pool of people, we can address the skills shortage issue at its root and create a steady pipeline of business-ready professionals who can start adding value from day one of deployment.”

Rod Flavell, CEO Of International Recruitment Company FDM Group

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“The college was initially founded to address the skills gap, but unfortunately over time, it is just getting greater. The pipeline of students coming through is shrinking and there is a lack of computer science teachers, too.”

EMPLOYEES SEEK TECH SKILLS DEVELOPMENT

Mark Watson, Chief Executive at web design agency Fat Beehive, said he believed that historical race and gender biases had dissuaded many people from pursuing a career in tech.

He felt diversity of employee background, life experience and thought were vital to encourage more people to participate in the tech sector.

There are, however, some innovative programmes to get people involved in the industry. Last year, Amazon’s AWS re/Start programme doubled its presence in Europe and is now available in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK.

The free, full-time, 12-week programme is designed to prepare unemployed or under-employed individuals for careers in cloud computing and, after successfully completing the course, 90 per cent of participants are offered job interviews through the scheme.

Ronan Harris, Managing Director of Google (UK and Ireland) says that big tech companies are trying to play their part in providing people with qualifications.

“We’ve trained over 800,000 people in the UK in a range of digital skills,” he told the BBC. “We want people to be excited about technology. But increasingly, what we’re seeing is all jobs that are being advertised have some form of digital requirement to them.”

Meanwhile, US multinationals have embarked on a series of major tech tuition schemes while, at the other end of the market, there are the likes of Miami’s Ruben Harris who sees an opportunity to upskill workers and unlock economic opportunities for all.

Mr Harris has created Career Karma, a start-up that enables workers to transition into the tech industry. The platform, which is free for users, helps people find a tech boot camp or education programme that is right for them. It then provides support and guidance in the form of coaches, who are a mix of peers and mentors.

“We work with forward-thinking employers that want to quickly level up their frontline workers into technology roles in their companies in less than a year,” Mr Harris said.

In a blog on the techUK website, Rod Flavell, CEO of international recruitment company FDM Group, said many companies were still catching up when it came to getting talent with the right digital skills into the workplace. He said getting the right skills could be facilitated by various learning and development programmes, including skills boot camps provided by the Institute of Coding, with which FDM has been collaborating for many years.

“Apprenticeships are another way of upskilling staff, which ensures building a workforce personally developed to the individual business needs,” he wrote.

“As an industry, we have a responsibility to support the training and development of ‘Net New Digital Talent’ into the market. This will simultaneously fill the digital skills gap, provide opportunity to under-represented parts of society and regulate cost to companies.

“FDM has highlighted over the last 30 years that it can recruit 15,000-plus people with limited or no tech experience, train them in specific areas of technology and nurture them into specialist IT careers. By making our training programmes available to a diverse pool of people, we can address the skills shortage issue at its root and create a steady pipeline of business-ready professionals who can start adding value from day one of deployment.”

Should anyone still question the importance of upskilling, this year’s report from US technology workforce development company Pluralsight, based on a survey of more than 700 technology learners and leaders in the US, Europe, Australia and India, found that 48 per cent had considered changing jobs because they were not given sufficient resources to develop tech skills.

Additionally, three-quarters agreed that their organisation’s preparedness to dedicate resources to developing their tech skills was influencing their plans on whether or not to remain with their employers.

Were he alive today, Benjamin Franklin might have observed: “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death, taxes and upskilling.