How Can Tech Firms Support the Next Generation of Talent?
Hannah Birch SVP, Managing Director, Europe
Jill Gates Vice President, Culture and People Experience Europe & India
The technology sector has a talent problem. As demands on IT services and IT functions continue to grow due to the shift to hybrid working, organisations are struggling to find employees with the skills they need. Over the last two years, just under half (46%) of businesses have struggled to recruit for roles that require data skills. According to the Learning & Work Institute, the number of children taking IT related subjects for their GCSEs dropped by 40% between 2015 and 2020. Women and other under-represented groups are particularly unlikely to pursue a tech career, depriving the sector of a vast pool of potential future leaders.
The skills shortage is a problem that requires action from multiple parties. The government and the education sector certainly play a key role, but private companies within the tech sector can also make a vital contribution. Ensono is committed to developing tech talent, participating in initiatives such as Your Future, Your Ambition, which introduces young people to STEAM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering, and the Arts Maths) and implementing young in career strategies to support more people coming into Technology careers. In this blog, Hannah Birch, Managing Director for Europe at Ensono, and Jill Gates, Ensono’s VP Culture, People & Experience in Europe & Asia, share their thoughts on how the private sector can help tackle the skills shortage.
Q: What should tech firms focus on to support the next generation of talent?
Hannah Birch: “The only way we can deal with the current skills shortage is by cross-training, and by bringing in more talent at entry level. In my view, it’s vital that we do both. Investment in early-in-career talent is absolutely crucial to get more skilled people into the tech sector. Private companies can play their part by participating in apprenticeship schemes and other initiatives such as the government’s Kickstart Scheme, which Ensono signed up to earlier this year. Kickstart, aimed at 16-to-24-year-olds on Universal Credit, provides funding for employers to train participants over a six-month period. It’s a great example of an initiative that enables companies to help those from disadvantaged backgrounds forge a career path in tech.”
Jill Gates: “I would add to Hannah’s point about the importance of early-in-career talent. Building the talent pipeline is an absolute must. It’s also worth noting that all organisations are on a journey when it comes to developing talent. There are lots of things we can be doing, and we should be investing in multiple avenues to deal with this crisis. If you’re a large organisation, it’s great if you can bring in more than one hundred people to train, but if you’re a small organisation, you can still cover lots of ground by investing in different areas simultaneously.”
Q: What is the business case for building pre-career talent?
Hannah Birch: “The business case really comes down to social responsibility and recognising what is good for society. Action to address the talent shortage should form part of a business’s measurable Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) targets. It’s worth remembering that prospective employees are increasingly interested in a company’s purpose and ethics. A company that shows it cares about building the talent pipeline is sending a positive signal to potential future employees.”
Jill Gates: “Investment in pre-career talent sends a positive signal about your business to the outside world. It also brings tangible benefits to the business internally. Apprentices and others involved in similar training programmes bring fresh thinking to a company and challenge the status quo by making us think differently. This is far from a one-way-street situation. Businesses derive real benefit from that influx of diverse perspectives. The other point to add is that businesses already contribute to the apprenticeship levy, so it makes sense to benefit from that payment by taking on apprentices.”
Q: How have the last 18 months influenced what people place importance on when it comes to their jobs and careers?
Hannah Birch: “I have certainly observed a shift in attitudes over the last 18 months as people have reassessed what is important to them in their careers. A big part of that has been people seeking a company culture with those who share their values. Employees place increasing importance – and rightly so – on a culture of inclusivity, where all individuals feel valued and supported. Employees are also looking for opportunities to grow and advance in their careers. Training is sought after, and people want work that they can get excited about. Companies are having to respond to these demands to retain talent.”
Jill Gates: “The shift in mindset has also been accompanied by a shift in how we think about physical office spaces. Businesses are having to navigate the tricky terrain of hybrid work, balancing the need to grant employees flexibility with the need to bring people together and maintain social interaction. We know isolation is not good for wellbeing, so the focus now is on how we can create environments where people can enjoy being together while also maintaining the flexibility to which we have all become accustomed.”
Q: What is the one thing that you’re really proud of that Ensono has done in this area?
Hannah Birch: “For me, the standout success has been our apprenticeship programme. In September, we took on a group of apprentices who work for Ensono four days a week alongside completing their degree studies. The reason I choose this particular scheme is because of the way it has enabled Ensono to contribute to social mobility, to an extent which I didn’t necessarily expect. Being able to support people who otherwise lack opportunities to enter a tech career is extremely rewarding. We’ve had candidates who never expected they could get into the scheme who are now thriving, bringing a great deal of value to the company through their contributions.”
Jill Gates: “My personal highlight is Ensono’s participation in the Future Frontiers programme, which sees our staff members mentoring Sixth Form students from disadvantaged backgrounds to advise them on the career choices available to them. We are now in our third year of supporting the scheme, and it remains an initiative that I am immensely proud to be a part of as a mentor. It’s so important that we show our support for initiatives like these, to help inspire the next generation of diverse talent.”