Management > Skills

The Hidden Talent Pool

Published 23 January 2017

Could the hidden talent pool help fill the IT skills gap? Sheila Flavell, chief operating 0fficer of FDM Group, recently briefed MPs on the subject, based on its own research


Let’s start with some stats: it’s predicted we need a million new recruits in the tech specialist workforce by 2023, 52% of employers currently struggling to fill digital job vacancies and women represent just 17% of the profession.

We all know and can see from these that we need to do more to attract people into IT, technology and digital roles. To date efforts have concentrated on trying to get more young people to study science, technology, mathematics and engineering. This is important. However, our research suggests that we may have a hidden talent pool that we could encourage to help swell the numbers.

I recently met with a number of MPs hosted by Chi Onwurah MP(Lab, Newcastle upon Tyne), Co-Chair Parliamentary Internet Communications Forum (PICTFOR), to brief them on the idea that non-technical students, in particular females, can be encouraged into digital roles thus helping us to address the growing IT skills and gender gaps.

The insight is gained from interviews we carried out among 400 of our female Consultants with a view to gaining their thoughts on ways of attracting more individuals into digital careers and breaking the stereotypes around a career in technology. It was supported by Cisco.

What we found is that given the diversity of digital roles today, a technology related degree is not necessarily required to gain employment. This is contrary to what many students may think. There is no doubt that it’s important to encourage more girls to study STEM subjects however, we also believe that there are real opportunities to encourage girls to consider a career in IT whatever they are studying.

On our graduate programme, the business analyst and project management streams in particular attract many non-STEM graduates including those with degrees in classics, law, geography and politics to name a few.

We know from our experience that many of the skills developed by graduates on non-STEM degrees can be transferred into digital roles. This opens up the industry to many more women given that, proportionately, not many take IT related courses (only 27% of students taking IT related A-levels in 2014 were female).

Getting this message across to students who may be unsure if they can get into IT without a computer science degree could unlock a hidden talent pool that ultimately may help us meet the growing demand for digital skills.

However, if the IT sector wants to take advantage of the transferable skills of non-STEM graduates, it needs to increase visibility of roles and overcome the negative perceptions of the industry that are stopping talented individuals from entering the sector. Our research showed that prior to working in technology respondents said they perceived it as ‘techy, introverted, a back office function, a closed shop with a glass ceiling’. These perceptions changed to ‘exciting, creative, innovative and growth’ after they had joined FDM and started their careers.

It’s all of our responsibilities to change the idea that IT is an inaccessible field. We need girls and boys to be able to see what digital is all about in order to opt to go into it. They need to see the relevance and excitement of it. We need to provide role models and work with schools and universities to drive better understanding of potential IT careers. If we can do this, we can ensure that the UK has a viable answer to the looming IT skills gap and remain innovative and competitive in the global tech field.

FDM is committed to driving gender diversity in the workplace; 50% of the management team and 26% of all employees at FDM are female. It signed the United Nations CEO Statement of Support and joined the Think, Act, Report (T.A.R) initiative; a government campaign to drive greater transparency on gender employment issues. Through its Women in IT initiative it provides a support network to help and mentor its female employees.

Sheila Flavell is chief operating officer of FDM Group,  a professional services company with a focus on IT and the UK’s largest IT graduate employer

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