High wage, high potential, low numbers – How do we attract more young people into tech careers?
It would seem that practically every industry is currently crying out for new blood. Every sector seems to be asking how they get more people to start careers in their particular area. The skills needed also seem to range from traditional skills such as carpenters, through to engineers and scientists.
The tech sector is no different, but there is one issue that sets it apart from the others. Tech should be attractive to young people, shouldn’t it? Are we not supposed to live in a world of tech-savvy kids all queuing up to immerse themselves in the latest advance? The evidence suggests otherwise, because the sector is still struggling to bring people into the industry.
It’s probably worth a little perspective on this. Firstly, let’s get some good news. According to the Tech Nation report, the technology sector is growing faster than any other in the UK. In fact, it is growing twice as fast as its nearest rival. Secondly, the pay is good. A salary in the technology industries will bag you 10k more than in most other sectors. Thirdly, depending as always on how you choose to read the statistics, we do seem to have 8 of the best 20 technology universities in the world here in the UK.
Then why are we not feeding the industry as many new people as it seems to need?
Well, part of the problem may be that the success of the industry is partly to blame for the skills gap, in that the growth is outstripping the potential supply of talent. While overseas and reskilling can bridge some of this, we need to have more young people coming into the industry to sustain the growth in the long term.
So what can be done?
As you would expect, the answer is not that easy to find. There are multiple factors involved, and certainly no universal panacea that we can throw at the problem to make it go away. However, reducing the problem would seem to be prudent because those high wages and growth will soon vanish unless we populate our offices with new blood.
One statistic that we really do need to address is the question of the gender gap. It makes for some worrying reading:
- Only 25% of computing jobs are held by women
- Less than 30% of computer degrees are held by women
These are worrying enough, but when you add that women under 25 can expect to earn just short of 30% less than their male counterparts, then it gets really concerning. The final insult is that there is a division between expressing interest in STEM subjects and completing them.
So it would seem that part of the issue may well be a diversity one.
Other factors that cannot be ignored include the connections between the workplace and education. There is always going to be a lag between the front line development and what is being taught of course because clearly, something needs to be developed for it to trickle down into the education system. However, stronger ties between universities and employers would certainly seem to be an obvious way to go. If industry influences the students, then they should be better equipped.
Which does bring us to another, slightly more contentious issue of the route to the workplace. Perhaps it is time for the tech industries to embrace the idea of apprenticeships and mentoring more to allow development from within. This is a process that has worked well in engineering for hundreds of years and, although the importance of a university education cannot be underestimated, it does not suit all young people.
If the industry as a whole works towards reaching out to a more diverse group, looks at new ways of training and actively seeks out young people, it may go a long way towards bridging this gap in the future. Many of our clients are already doing some pretty radical things to encourage young people into their ranks, and it is a pleasure to see these initiatives pay off.
In the end, we know from experience of tech recruitment that when the current system isn’t working well enough, the tech industry will do what it does best, it will innovate.