The technology skills gap has long been the subject of academic articles and blog posts. But will the effects of the outbreak of COVID-19 further a skills shortage in businesses?
In our survey of IT Directors, Managers/Heads and Engineers of UK businesses, 25% of respondents reported that furloughing or terminating the contracts of skilled employees will impact their organisation in the future. However, 75% reported they will have the required skills to implement technology the organisation requires over the next 2 years.
Skilled is defined as ‘trained or experienced in work that requires skill’. This blog will explore how current employees and future employees will be affected by the outbreak of COVID-19 using this definition.
The Economist argued that “the pandemic has widened existing divides between professionals, low paid workers and the young”. Many professionals can work from home, utilise technology such as Zoom or Teams, and are spared their daily commute. If 25% of respondents’ future predictions for the business is the termination of the contracts of skilled employees, this would reduce the number of professionals in the company; however, it could move the existing skilled individuals around UK businesses.
This would not help those trying to get into the technology field. If employees are furloughed or their contracts are terminated, they remain skilled under its definition. However, as stressed in a BBC article, “young workers risk their pay being affected for years, while older staff may end up involuntarily retired” meaning that even skilled employees under the definition can be adversely affected by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a dire prospect for an already serious skills shortage.
An individual could have ‘experience’ to fall under the definition of being skilled. However, with entry level jobs being cut or training schemes not being funded due to the economic effects of COVID-19, young people may struggle from a lack of experience in the future job market. Additionally, there is evidence that people under 25 were more likely to work in a sector which was shut down during the lockdown period.
If young people are increasing less experienced from reduced opportunities, this would have a long-term effect on a skills shortage in a sector like tech or general progression in the job market and skills shortage.
Apprenticeships have been promoted as an avenue which can help business recruit the right people to help growth, both now and in the long-term. Therefore, the apprenticeships are protected and supported by the government. Additionally, there is further support for organisations who hire an apprentice between the 1st August 2020 to the 31st January 2021.
Retraining Current Employees for the New Normal
Harking back to the definition of skilled, to fall under this interpretation an individual should be ‘trained’. An organisation’s staff need to understand operations under a new normal, women returning to work may have previously been skilled under the definition but require some retraining, and a digital culture has been increasingly stressed as an organisational requirement. This responsibility falls on the business.
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More employers are also taking it upon themselves to train their staff in the use of technology. However, an individual could also take a course in tech whilst working from home. This includes free, partly paid or paid courses like Codeacademy, Harvard Online Learning, or Microsoft Learn.
Given the economic crisis and future business concerns which may face UK organisations, it seems highly likely that this will further the skills shortage witnessed in tech related roles.
The definition of ‘skilled’ is narrow. Further, ‘experience’ and ‘training’ are two aspects which have been hit hard during the outbreak of COVID-19. Young people are given less opportunities to develop ‘experience’ and current employees will find challenges surrounding ‘training’.
The future impact of this is unknown, but early intervention by corporations willing to train employees, government support and the investment in digital transformation could positively impact the skills required by the industry.