UK Prime Minister David Cameron pushed for
fast-track visas for IT experts, under the
“Exceptional Talent” route, in an attempt to make the UK an
attractive place for tech companies to start or grow their businesses.
This move was popular at the time, but was it really necessary or are
UK businesses simply pushing the government to relax their visa
rules in order to make it easier for them to import the talent
they want cheaply rather than hiring home-grown talent?
Digital natives aren’t digital experts
The IT sector has been hit hard over the last ten years. Between the bursting
of the dotcom bubble and the double-dip recession, many IT workers chose to
re-train, opting for trades that are always in demand instead of
knowledge-focused jobs that were in decline. This means that while demand
for skills such as .NET and C# programming as well as SharePoint,
Exchange and Windows Server administration remains high, the number
of people qualified to fill those positions is falling.
One reason for this decline is the lack of interest in STEM skills
in general. Today’s students and recent graduates may be digital
natives in name, but while they are able to use technology they
have a relatively poor understanding of how the tools
and devices they use are made and managed.
Bridging the IT Skills Gap
There have been several initiatives planned to increase interest in the STEM fields,
but the most successful initiatives are the ones that catch children young and
introduce them to technology through the Raspberry Pi or other similar “hands-on”
programming tools. It will take many years to see the fruits of those efforts.
Meanwhile, we are left with a relatively small talent pool of skilled developers in the UK.
The skills gap is real, but this does not mean that the answer is to import talent.
Now is a good time for adults looking for a career change to re-train, and for
those who left programming during the 1990s to update their skills. It is easy
to do this online — for Microsoft training online see here — and there are many
free courses offered by services such as MIT and Coursera that cover
programming fundamentals, web development and other subjects.
Nurture talent at home
UK businesses can help to bridge the skills gap too. Training your existing
employees to fulfill technical roles is a good investment.
It improves employee morale, breeds loyalty, and means that you don’t
have to go through a long hiring and orientation project.
The people you train up internally already know your systems, procedures
and preferences and are ready to tackle projects immediately. Server
technologies and programming languages are constantly evolving.
It makes sense to reward motivated and skilled employees who have proven
that they are willing to put in the effort to stay up to date with
the latest technologies by undertaking training.