Tech skills lag behind pace of digital transformation

A lack of candidates with coveted IT, cloud computing and AI skills is further compounding recruitment issues as digital demands continue to grow, causing businesses to seek alternative talent pools.

The latest survey by Equinix has revealed that UK IT leaders have serious concerns about staff retention and recruitment.

According to the Equinix 2022 Global Tech Trends Survey, 67% of IT decision-makers in the UK view a shortage of personnel with IT skills as one of the main threats to their business, compared to 62% globally. Companies—including Equinix—are looking to widen the talent pool, bringing in more diverse candidates through alternative recruitment drives. The 2,900 survey respondents acknowledged the speed at which the tech industry is transforming has left companies struggling to find people with the right skill sets to meet present and future challenges. In addition, 61% of UK IT leaders acknowledged that the skills shortage has been exacerbated by the speed at which the tech industry is transforming.

Globally, the most common concerns identified by 44% of respondents were candidates with the wrong skill sets applying for jobs, and retention of current talent. In the UK, the results were slightly higher, with 45% of IT leaders highlighting applicants’ skill sets not matching vacancies, while 49% felt retaining talent was an increasing challenge. In addition, half of UK respondents (50%) said shifting expectations of employees towards hybrid and flexible working models had added further pressure.

Across the globe, the most in-demand tech employees are IT technicians (27%), cloud computing specialists (26%) and those with an AI/machine learning aptitude (26%). Other skills shortages include data analysis (21%), data protection (21%), security software development (19%) and security analysis (18%). Globally, IT leaders anticipate the gaps in tech skills will remain similar in the future, with AI/machine learning becoming even more prominent.

In the UK, the survey identified the biggest tech skills gap today as being in AI/machine learning, with 28% of hirers highlighting a shortage of expertise, followed by gaps in IT technician applicants (25%) and cloud computing specialists (25%).

Keri Gilder, CEO of Colt Technology Services, based in London, explained: “Finding the right skills is a real problem in the tech industry, especially on the software side. The reality is that with the softwarisation of services, all industries are seeking the same skills. One of the challenges here is a lack of awareness among young talent of the opportunities available within the tech sector. Connectivity providers don’t appear in many use cases—even those at university level—despite all the work being done in areas such as subsea, satellite and fibre. We have to think collaboratively around talent, and work as an industry to bring in more of the diverse skills base waiting for an opportunity.”

In response to skills shortages, many global businesses are working hard to reskill people from other areas. Indeed, 62% said they reskill workers from similar industries, while 34% are trying to bolster their workforce with recruits from unrelated sectors. It is a similar story in the UK, with 57% of businesses reskilling workers from the IT sector and related industries, while 39% seek to reskill applicants from completely different industry sectors. With recent layoffs and furlough schemes prompting workers to start looking for opportunities to level up their skills or careers, tech companies that offer training and development opportunities could be better positioned to attract talent.

The most common sources of reskilled workers globally are administration and business support (36%), finance and insurance (33%), and those returning to work after a period of absence (30%). These reskilled workers tend to help businesses bridge the tech skills gaps by working in IT technician (51%), cloud computing (36%) and data analysis roles (35%). Similarly in the UK, the IT industry is drawing talent from administration and business support (36%), finance and insurance (36%), manufacturing (32%), and people returning to work after a career break (28%).

Equinix has a collection of career transition programs under its Career Pathways portfolio. These programs are designed to expand and diversify talent pools by drawing from careers with transferable skills, such as military veterans transitioning to civilian life, and retired Olympians and Paralympians, through a partnership with Athlete Career Transition (ACT). The career transition reskilling program constitutes 40% of field operations hiring globally, sourcing workers from adjacent industries, such as airline, oil and gas, and hospitality, and reskilling them to fill data centre roles. Additional programs include the soon-to-launch Invictus, which will focus on hiring SkillBridge veterans disabled due to military service, New To Career, attracting new graduates, and refugee-targeted talent schemes. Collectively, these initiatives are targeted to bring the company more than 750 hires in 2022.

Meanwhile, businesses are also seeking to recruit through higher education and apprenticeship programs. IT leaders globally said their companies’ main ways of partnering with higher education institutions include offering student internships (42%), running collaborative training programs with higher education institutions (41%), taking part in college/university career fairs (37%) and partnering on degree apprenticeship programs (34%).

In the UK, 44% of companies are taking part in college and university careers fairs to identify new talent, while 36% are partnering with educational institutes to support relevant degree apprenticeships. Additionally, 36% outsource company training to higher education institutions, and 35% run intern summer placement schemes.

According to Brandi Galvin Morandi, Chief Legal and HR Officer at Equinix, “The survey reveals unmatched skill sets are hampering talent acquisition across tech-focused teams globally. There is an overall lack of understanding about the specific skills needed for certain roles, and potential candidates need better guidance around training, preparation, and job opportunities.

“This challenge hands our industry the opportunity to recruit and develop talent in different ways, and this is something we’ve been working to get ahead of in the past few years. We believe companies should foster a progressive talent development roadmap for tech roles that caters for both inexperienced and trained candidates. Another opportunity is mentorship programs—helping potential candidates gain access to an established network for career guidance, while connecting companies with suitable candidates for a robust talent pool. We also encourage higher education and vocational training institutions to work with tech teams within companies to ensure their curriculum imparts the right skills to students and prepares them for their desired careers,” Galvin Morandi added.

Gary Aitkenhead, Senior Vice President, EMEA IBX Operations at Equinix, noted: “The skills gap is present across the entire tech industry, but is particularly acute in operations roles where the rapid pace of change means the workforce needs to be constantly upskilled and expanded. At Equinix, we run comprehensive training programs to ensure our current employees have the skills they need, but it is more difficult to find new recruits with the right skill sets. Ultimately, not enough people are aware of the career opportunities within the data centre industry. To help solve this problem, Equinix is trialling a number of initiatives in EMEA, including career transition programs such as the “I am Remarkable” project in the UK that aims to help people from diverse backgrounds return to the workforce after taking a career gap.”

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