At the beginning of 2022, every business was afraid of the Great Resignation: a massive exodus of talent as workers were inspired to switch jobs or even careers following the pandemic.
While the worst effects - which would have hamstrung the tech industry - haven't come to pass, there is still a "huge issue" with technical skills both in the UK and globally, and we are seeing a high level of movement as employees move to more flexible or higher-paying roles. It's a seller's market for IT jobs, said Katie Nykanen - CTO at digital skills provider QA - at the Women in Tech Festival last week.
While that might change in the near future for some industries, tech is unlikely to be affected, Nykanen warned. The coming economic crisis "will drive transformation in business...which will cause redundancy programmes," but the sheer demand for tech jobs means that employees can still afford to be picky.
"Employees don't just walk into a job and accept a basic salary and the kind of, 'Here's your desk and your laptop'. There are much higher expectations about what people want from a job, and what they expect from their employer."
IT's growing importance in the last decade has only accentuated the trend. Companies like Google and Microsoft are clearly 'IT companies', but Nykanen argued that every business is becoming a tech firm to a certain extent - from banks to supermarkets.
"The tech function has become front and centre of most of those organisations, as opposed to a small IT team in the background."
The amount of "hard" tech roles being advertised - like cyber, data and software engineering - is still increasing quickly, but the number of people to fill those positions hasn't changed nearly as much. Just hiring someone "is really not a viable option in every case anymore."
Re-investing and reskilling
Instead of hiring, companies should look to re-skill their existing staff to bridge the gap. These are people "who really care about your business" and who already understand it from a cultural perspective. Investing in them to help you transform "has a much more positive impact and is more likely to be successful."
There is a risk of upskilling backfiring, though. Some businesses are afraid that investing in staff makes them more likely to take their new talents elsewhere, but Nykanen pointed out that if you don't help people advance, they won't stick around:
"What we're hearing from a lot of businesses is, 'The problem is I can invest all this money into these people and upskill them, and then they'll just go somewhere else because they can get paid a fortune.'
"The other side of that is if you don't train them, they're going to leave anyway or you're going to have to get rid of them because they're not going to be able to fill the skills that you need."
The solution is to achieve a critical mass of people who have that training. That does mean some businesses will need to be the brave ones who take the first steps in upskilling and reskilling, but that is likely to pay dividends in loyalty.
"As we see more [upskilling], I think people who get upskilled will not go, 'Now I've got these skills I'm going to leave', they'll go, 'I don't need to leave because this company is great and I'm happy working here. I don't need to go to that company because they've got people already', and everybody's in a better place."
Forecasts for the next five years suggest we'll need an additional 8 million people with technical skills, so businesses may not even have the choice of hiring outside talent: we will all have to look to alternative solutions.
"The willingness and ability of everybody to embrace different ways of creating that all from different places is not even going to be an option. We're going to have to do it, because there's just not enough people going through the classic education path and coming out with tech ready skills."
Day two of the Women in Tech Festival will be held virtually tomorrow, the 9th November. Click here to register.