Over half of British businesses fear the UK’s tech skills shortage will deepen after Brexit, according to a survey of 1,000 business leaders by Salesforce, a cloud services provider.

The fact that most verticals are currently going through an unprecedented wave of digital transformation adds more pressure to an already painful problem. However, the mere fact that Western economies require a constant influx of tech workers points to a deeper problem that’s well-known inside the tech industry and this is now starting to impact other industry verticals as well.

Brexit brain drain

Historically, technology companies have seen a lot of demand for training. This is understandable, considering how their products usually bring technology innovation to the market. Formal education may help with basic skills, but school curricula can seldom follow the pace of change in the tech industry. With that in mind, tech companies organise paid courses where alumni learn to operate and use their software and hardware, and usually gain titles or degrees increasing their qualifications. In some cases, these programmes can be very sizeable – Cisco’s Networking Academy, for example, provided training to 9.2 million alumni worldwide in 20 years of existence.

But the skills gap isn’t going away – in fact, quite the opposite. The problem lies between the formal education sector, commercial training programmes and businesses themselves. The education sector is usually too slow to churn out large numbers of well-qualified technology personnel with college degrees. Commercial training programmes cost money and usually require up-front investment. Finally, businesses ideally require qualified tech personnel that can immediately assume full responsibility for running their technologies.

“Importing” skilled personnel from abroad can seem like a quick fix to this challenge, and Western companies have become very proficient at that, usually aided by government programmes to attract and facilitate onboarding of qualified immigrants. Unfortunately, the downside of this trend is currently being felt in the UK: raising barriers for immigration inevitably leads to qualified tech personnel seeking opportunities elsewhere.

For the UK, a deeper and more systemic solution will require the coordinated action of government, education sector and industry.

And fortunately, precedents do exist: German schools and companies, for example, have built an internship system for high school students that provides a win-win outcome for both students and the industry. Students serve as interns in local businesses, learning on the job in the process, and businesses get a qualified personnel pool after the students graduate. Tech businesses, and concerned government and education bodies should seek a permanent solution to the tech skills gap along these lines.

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