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Talent shortage in the UK tech scene – How big of a problem is it?

Posted in General News, Industry News on 21st September 2021

We’re sure you’ve been there, we all have. Hiring for software engineers in the UK is currently very challenging, and this challenge is typically met with “There is such a talent shortage”. We’re inclined to agree BUT not for the reasons that most people think. At the point of writing the amount of people with the term “Software Engineer” in their LinkedIn profile (UK) stands at circa 1,245,000 split across a Software Engineering Manager, Lead, Principal, Software Engineer, Graduate, and Junior. So, first of all, is there really such a vast talent shortage of developers in the UK at the moment? Our answer… NO. 

When you consider the main programming languages (Javascript, Java, C#, Python, and PHP) you would think this is where the talent shortage is, you know, not enough people to do the number of jobs on the market, well… there you would be right…ish. 

With over 220k people doing Javascript, over 260k doing Java, and nearly 500k people doing C#, Python, and PHP combined, you would think that maybe this is enough? Again, we would be inclined to agree, but it’s not that simple. If hiring managers, internal recruiters or Human Resources went into the market typed in “JAVA” and had 260k people to speak with, then there would be no need for people like us – external recruiters. So, if the volume of people isn’t the problem and the amount of these people using different languages, what is the problem and why are we, and the IT sector, talking about it so much?

First and foremost, there has been lots of feedback to suggest that entering the industry is an issue. 

If you go back 25 years, pre-Y2K glitch, then the way into the industry was relatively straightforward, if you could code and understood the fundamentals then you would be able to get in somewhere, and once you had experience, you were set. Post Y2K glitch, you would ideally have a computer science degree and some independent work you had completed, and this would have been enough. If you look at the last 5-10 years the sector has changed, there are bootcamps, more universities than ever providing CompSci degrees, self-taught learners, apprenticeships, the list goes on. Now, you’re thinking, “Surely the breadth of ways to learn should increase entry” – We hate to break it to you, but it’s the wrong way of thinking.

Previously, the learnings were more uniform. At university you were taught C, Java, Python, and a bit of PHP (this is just a rough guide) but you were taught about the fundamentals, the rhymes and rhythms of Computer Science.  Through Bootcamps, you learn how to code and how to build projects, but less about the fundamentals of computing. Apprenticeships – you learn all about the commercial aspects that you wouldn’t normally get but the learning is less theoretical and more hands-on. What we are trying to say is that it is hard to assess the standard of each junior software engineer as they all come from different backgrounds. This is why there is now a 2-3 years’ experience expectation on all junior developer positions. This is supported by the number of people who are in Junior/Graduate developer roles, 56,000 out of the 1.2million. 

Graph explaining how juniors need 2-3 years' experience before they secure their first software engineering job.
2-3 years’ experience required to get into the industry in 2021

Considering the number of people entering the market is slowing down but not evaporating, why else is there this perception of a talent shortage? One word, speed. 

The speed at which technology is developing, the speed at which developers learn and the pure speed of the entire industry.

There have been over 25 new frameworks/libraries in Javascript since 2006, how is anyone meant to keep up with that? 

Time laps between 2006 and 2020 indicating how many javascript frameworks have been developed in the last 15 years. There are 29 in total.
29 new javascript frameworks, no wonder there is a talent shortage.

https://bestofjs.org/timeline

This diversification in technology creates new “preferred technologies” for software developers. Engineers set up their own companies with their preferences and then expect to hire people with those skills already. In the UK (https://technation.io/news/new-tech-business-launched-every-half-an-hour-in-the-uk-in-2020/) there are roughly 20,000 new businesses launched in the tech space each year. The entrepreneurs behind them have their preferences, if they aren’t developers themselves, they will have a CTO with their own tech stack, this array of technologies leads to a cacophony of tech stacks that makes it incredibly niche and therefore difficult to source the talent that each company wants while having enough experience in the relevant tech. 

Are you starting to see the issue? 

If you are, then you may already be thinking about how to overcome this obstacle. There are a couple of ways you can navigate this talent shortage issue and they are all centred around upskilling. 

For example, cloud technologies are on the rise.

The growth of AWS, Google Cloud, and Azure has led to more companies, such as Oracle, to launch their own cloud platforms. If you go back to the early 00’s when AWS was formed and compare it to today, the cloud scene has taken a stronger grip on the market in the last 5 or so years compared to the early days. So, over the last 5 years, companies have been implementing cloud procedures in their development lifecycles and began to upskill their staff in the new ways of working – it was the only way they were able to keep up. 

Cloud was/is billed to be the future of development so companies have decided to invest in it and will/have reap(ed) the rewards – especially the early adopters. 

This was only possible because staff members had a solid fundamental understanding of Computer Science. They were able to gain the knowledge required to implement these new skills and tools while hiring the specialists to help upskill staff but this isn’t always easy. 

Considering the issue covered about earlier concerning the variety of education for developers, this understanding of core fundamentals is diminishing as self-learners, boot-campers and even CompSci graduates are learning frameworks and libraries ahead of core programming languages, and concepts. Learning React over gaining a deeper understanding of JavaScript for example.

Hiring talent who has the core fundamentals over any library or framework is how you bridge this ‘skills gap’. If you are looking for a laundry list of skills for candidates, it will be difficult to find them all for the reason we discussed earlier. However, if you look for someone with core skills such as cloud skills, not a specific tool or if you look for a Javascript developer instead of an Angular developer, you will likely have more success. Competent developers who have an understanding of the core fundamentals should be able to pick a new framework/library within a few weeks and therefore should be able to deliver on projects at a high level. This makes your talent pool go from a little garden pond to a swimming pool worth of talent and therefore more likely to get the candidate you want. 

Swimming pool that helps reaffirm the point made about a swimming pool of candidates mentioned above in the text. - Opposite of a talent shortage
Swimming Pool of Candidates instead of a talent shortage.

So, if it was that simple why don’t companies do it? 

Plain and simple – COST. 

There has never been more money spinning around in the world of technology. Currently, the tech industry is worth £423 billion and the annual investment has increased by £10 Billion from 2010 (£1.2B) to 2020 (£11.3B). So, if companies hire the talent following the above framework, then there is the additional risk that they won’t be able to pick up the technologies thus costing the company money and the investors who have backed them. 

The way the industry is going it will soon hit a point where the diversity in tech stacks either becomes too much that skills will become outdated much quicker than they currently are (roughly 5 years), or companies will be forced into taking more risks and potentially losing money as they won’t be able to get the talent that is required. The rapid expansion of the tech sector has been a blessing and a curse and as a whole, we need to find a solution to make this growth more sustainable. 

If you are struggling with the “talent shortage” to hire or need some help with the current landscape of the IT sector at the moment then you can get in touch with us here at Candour Solutions at [email protected].  

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