The ‘IT skills gap’ – a genuine problem or just scaremongering?

By Sooraj Shah
05 Jan 2014 View Comments
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When Prime Minister David Cameron pushed for international technology experts to be given fast-tracked visas to enable them to work in the UK, he said that the 'Exceptional Talent' route would help "to make Britain the best place in the world in which to start and grow a business".

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The UK's answer to Silicon Valley, dubbed Tech City, was to work with the Home Office so that the UK can benefit from more specialists in the technology sector from April 2014.

The move was lauded by UK businesses and Tech City, but could this just have been a case of the government caving into demands from UK businesses to relax visa restrictions by suggesting that there is an 'IT skills gap'?

Ann Swain, chief executive of The Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo), claims that an IT skills shortage is emerging but is likely to grow in the coming years.

"The IT sector was one of the hardest hit during the recession, and our monthly trends report - which analyses vacancies and placements across the professional staffing sector - has in the last few months pointed towards the early stages of a skills shortage," she says.

Michael Bennett, director of recruitment agency ReThink Recruitment, says that his firm has seen a surge in the number of different IT roles that it is hiring for.

"Demand for skills like C#, .NET and other programming languages has been consistent during the recession and has really started picking back up. However, we simply can't find enough skills in the UK market," he claims. 

This, APSCo believes, is the result of a long standing STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] skills shortage.

The Royal Academy of Engineering recently estimated that the minimum number of STEM graduates required to keep the industry fully resourced now stands at approximately 100,000 a year, but only 90,000 graduates are coming out of university with a STEM degree - and up to one-quarter of those go on to choose non-STEM careers.

According to a Tech City UK spokesperson "there is a shortage of digital skills the world over" and it is "something [it is] addressing". It is doing this, in part, with the help of the Exceptional Talent visas.

"[The visas among other things] allows our technology industry to attract the best talent the world has. We understand that to make London the best place in the world to scale and grow a business, we need the best talent at our fingertips and so we are doing all we can to support the needs of our thriving eco-system," the spokesperson told Computing.

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