Industry Disconnect: Graduates and Tech

A career in tech offers the chance to make an impact, at scale while being surrounded by incredible people.

Why then aren't graduates being guided toward this industry?

In the last year, one of the toughest we've faced, the UK Tech Industry has shown its resilience.

Rated the fifth most digitally advanced nation in Europe its tech businesses are worth £400 million a day to the UK economy.

Job creation continues to grow (50% between July and December 2020) with 10% of all job vacancies in the UK now in Tech. 

What’s more, the UK has more tech “unicorns” (startups valued at $1 billion-plus) than any other European country. 

However, the UK is facing a detrimental skills shortage, with nine in ten organisations quoting a shortage of digital skills.

In particular, the tech industry is struggling to connect to graduates.

So what’s going wrong? Why aren’t graduates being guided into Tech?

A General Downturn?

This past year has been difficult for graduate recruitment in general; in 2020 the number of graduate jobs fell by 12%, the biggest fall in graduate recruitment since the 2008 recession.

Graduates are facing the toughest labour market in nearly 75 years with an estimated 100 applicants vying for each job. Could the lack of graduates in the tech industry be explained by the general downturn in graduate recruitment? It would be understandable to think so.

However, tech is still hiring and struggling to meet its recruitment needs — 42% of employers find it hard to fill jobs in programming and development.

Tech sits outside this general job creation downturn. The fact they are struggling to fill roles points to something larger — a severe disconnect between industry and graduates.


Skillset Disconnect

A lot of entry-level tech positions ask for a technical degree or qualification. If you haven’t studied computer science or an equivalent it isn’t always clear how to break into the tech industry.

At university, you cultivate an incredible collection of soft skills. However, employers generally ask for a level of experience unreasonable to ask of graduates.

Even if you’ve studied a technical degree, requirements to have ‘X’ years of experience or experience with a certain tech stack grow the divide between industry and graduates.

Unreasonable expectations from employers and the inability to provide graduates with a learning environment to grow on the job, develop this skillset disconnect.

As Eoin Hefferman of cybersecurity company Padlock explains: 

“You’ll often hear people talk about the need for certain qualifications and I can understand that from a risk mitigation point of view, but we’re overlooking talent.”

What’s left for graduates are minute and blurred entry routes into tech.

“You’ll often hear people talk about the need for certain qualifications and I can understand that from a risk mitigation point of view, but we’re overlooking talent.”
Eoin Hefferman Padlock
Industry Exposure

Another factor is that students simply aren’t being exposed to the opportunities available to them in tech.

Tech companies don’t tend to feature in the standard Milkround graduate routes, unlike industries such as finance, consultancy or law.

For example, there’s only one tech company in The Times Top 10 Graduate Employers and only 10 of The UK 300 are tech companies.

Instantly this constricts the flow of graduates going into tech. For graduates who do make it into tech at this level, it is often a combination of luck and right-time-right-place.

While graduates are aware that Tech is where the opportunity lies, the industry is not creating the routes of entry for them.


Lack of Training Opportunities

Employers want graduates who can add value right from the start and in Tech they can’t offer the training and development needed.

Tech is fast-paced and frequently changing. This rapid growth has contributed to a lack of development schemes for graduates that are frequently seen in other areas such as consultancy, management and analysis.

Employers in the industry can’t facilitate the environment needed for graduates to develop into technologists.

For example, taking a software engineer off the floor for a period of time to train a graduate is an unreal expectation for many companies. However, learning from practitioners is incredibly valuable for graduates and is part of the environment they need.

This contributes to a constant inability to bring in and develop graduate talent in Tech — growing the disconnect between the industry and graduates.


Other Routes to Industry

What then are the options for candidates who want to work in tech but need training and development?

Bootcamps and additional courses are an option but for many, they are too expensive. Both in terms of fees and taking time out of work.

At a time when we’re facing an economic recession of unprecedented levels, it’s an unlikely expectation that an average graduate will have the resources to pay for further training.



Tech Needs to Remove the Barriers

The disconnect is contributing to a dangerous lack of diversity within Tech.

Despite an industry-wide push, the number of women in Tech has barely risen in the last decade; in 2009 women comprised 15.7% of IT professionals, that has only risen to 16.4%.

This is one of many examples you can find when searching ‘diversity in Tech.’

We continue to put these barriers up at the cost of future advancements, better products and an innovate Tech ecosystem.


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