Talent and Training in the Digital Age



In this article our Strategic Director of Health, Ellen Dickson, delves into the challenges surrounding the digital skills gap and offers actionable insights to bridge the gap and nurture a proficient digital workforce for the future.



The world of technology is changing at a pace never seen before and businesses are having to rely on experts to successfully meet the challenge of digital transformation. Talent and training in digital skills is now more critical than ever before.



IT professionals in Northern Ireland have a responsibility to encourage future generations and those changing to IT careers to progress in the tech industry.



In many organisations, IT teams have struggled to keep up with the new relevant technologies and Northern Ireland’s education system isn’t generating enough talent with the right skillsets quickly enough. A 2021 report led by the Open University reveals nearly three quarters (69%) of NI businesses believe that there is a skills shortage in their organisation, which is the highest percentage across the UK.



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There are a number of steps that can be taken to address this IT skills gap. At Telefónica Tech UK&I, as a leading digital transformation company providing businesses with Cloud, Data, Enterprise Applications, Modern Workplace and Cyber Security technology solutions, we are continuously seeking new ways to attract the best tech talent in a competitive market, and we are very conscious of the need for continuous learning.



To ensure that our own staff are equipped with the necessary skills to progress in their IT careers, it is our duty to help staff regularly upskill to improve their knowledge and to keep pace with industry changes. This helps us retain talent and deliver exceptional service to our customers. The competition for IT talent underscores why numerous enterprises opt to leverage the capabilities of IT providers like Telefónica Tech.



Following the Covid-19 pandemic, many businesses now operate on a remote basis and many in the IT sector are now opting for remote jobs from the comfort of their own homes. As an employer with a large IT presence in Northern Ireland, we need to be as competitive as possible with those companies to attract our local talent, including the next generation.



Unlike the generations before them, millennials are the most likely generation to switch jobs and careers at some stage in their lifetime. To help increase the talent pool, employers must be ready to acknowledge the skills and experience from peoples’ previous careers that can be beneficial when embarking on a career in IT. Ensuring that they are supported whilst on that journey is crucial. This may come in the form of assisting them with formal qualifications or offering buddy schemes and mentorships to help navigate them through early career induction.



As someone who had a rather unconventional path into the IT sector, is important to make it clear that it doesn’t matter if you didn’t do computer science as a university degree. There are other ways into the sector; it’s just about finding the best path for you.



There are a number of possible reasons why the digital skills shortage is so apparent. Unlike other sectors, IT careers are hard to visualise, and there is a lack of transparency on the options available within the sector. Despite the fact that children are now growing up in a digitised world, according to a report carried out by the BBC, the number of young people taking IT subjects at GCSE level has significantly dropped in recent years.



In order to attract young people to these disciplines, it would be very beneficial to help children understand what an IT career could entail, perhaps by coming at it in a different direction and introducing non-curriculum-based activities, that are more up to date. And, of course, working closely with universities and building relationships to create close proximity between them and graduates looking for jobs.



Earlier this year, Telefónica Tech UK&I partnered with Impact Training and Queen’s University Belfast to give 16–19-year-olds a chance to learn essential software skills. It was aimed at school leavers from North and West Belfast to offer them skills that would help to equip them in the workplace, which will hopefully enable them to progress further, securing careers in this exciting industry. Giving them this hands-on experience is vital in order to help them visualise what a career in IT might look like.



On the other hand, whilst there has been a definite increase in recent years in the number of women working in IT, there is still much progress to be made to encourage more women to firstly choose IT as a career, and secondly to remain in a career in IT.



There are a number of services and schemes available in Northern Ireland to support women who are returning to work following a break in their career or who require reduced hours with skills training and career support. One of these is Press Refresh, which is a programme led by Women in Business and Belfast Metropolitan College, aimed to equip returners with new skills necessary to build their careers in IT.



As part of our commitment as a company to recognising tech talent, Telefónica Tech UK&I is the headline sponsor of the 2023 Belfast Telegraph IT Awards, which will take place at Belfast’s the MAC on 10th November, where the best of the IT industry in Northern Ireland will join together to celebrate this ever-growing sector in the region.


Author: Ellen Dickson
Strategic Director of Health



This article was originally published in Ambition Magazine, published by Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce

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