TJ interviews Questionmark’s Joe Udwin

TJ caught up with Joe Udwin, chief technology officer at Questionmark to check out how UK CTOs can help to close the IT skills gap?

What specifically are CTOs facing when it comes to the IT skills gap in the UK?

Employees are continually looking to upskill themselves and further their career opportunities. Organisations that are unable to address this continuous need for training and development are in jeopardy. They risk losing talent to competitors and ending up with a workforce who are unprepared to take advantage of new technologies and unable to extract business insight from the accumulating valuable data that companies hold.

Is the skills gap widening? If so, what are the reasons for this?

We define this more as a skills shortage rather than a skills gap. One of the key drivers for this is Brexit, which has reduced the talent pool on offer from which to recruit. This shrinking pool has made it harder to recruit specialists and specific roles for each sector, such as security and data. The knock-on effect is also limiting access to recruiting from a diversified group of backgrounds and genders.

As a CTO, what issues have you faced relating to the IT skills gap?

Hiring across the IT sector is a challenge for many businesses today as there simply aren’t enough employees in the UK market to meet the demand for advanced IT skills. This is a challenge we have faced at Questionmark, as well as the complexities of onboarding new staff and keeping their skills up to date with the rapidly developing industry.

We dedicate allotted time to each employee every two weeks to expand their skills

As a CTO, what have you done to address the IT skills gap in your organisation?

The skills gap/shortage is a challenge faced by the whole industry currently. We’ve adopted Cloud-based technologies to help mitigate this as far as possible. This has included the automation of many administrative tasks faced by our teams.

Where appropriate, we’ve also looked to hire from across a global talent pool. One of the many benefits of tech, and working for an organisation with a global presence, is being able to utilise talent from multiple time zones and continents to bring innovative solutions to our business.

What can CTOs do to beat the skills gap?

Skills need to continually evolve at the same pace (if not faster) than new technologies are rolled out. To make sure we remain ahead of the curve, we dedicate allotted time to each employee every two weeks to expand their skills. This continued professional development can take many forms, including the use of video-based learning platforms that cover the latest industry trends or knowledge-based testing to identify areas of improvement. 

Are there any investments that can be made by CTO to mitigate the skills gap? (Automation, AI). As a CTO, how effective have these efforts been?

Automation is certainly one fairly immediate answer. Moving our IT infrastructure to the Cloud is one such example of this. 

In my experience, investments in automation, training and certification can have an immediate impact. Training and certification are equally important steps to fill the skills shortage through nurturing the talent pipeline and equipping aspiring IT professionals with critical training and business skills.

Have you been able to reach out to local schools, colleges, and universities, to help them understand and prepare for the tech skills requirements of tomorrow? What has been the feedback on this?

The only way we can solve and address the skills gap is to build from the foundations. Schools and universities need to be implementing IT learning and training as early as possible, to provide future generations with the fundamental skills needed for a career in IT and wider life. 

We partnered directly with BCS, the UK’s professional body for computing. We believe education is a human right and we, therefore, value the importance of providing the best opportunities for those at the higher education level looking to move into a career in IT. Our partnership provides and facilitates the online qualifications and certifications provided by the BCS. 

What are large organisations doing to develop skills in their existing workforce?

The development of skills is mission-critical to all organisations. We’ve found that many of our largest clients find anonymous audit tests and performance-based testing some of the most beneficial when it becomes to identify areas of growth and, indeed, proving knowledge. Both allow organisations to create bespoke training, testing and certification programs.

How will the skills gap crisis pan out in the next 12-18 months?

Looking ahead to the next 12-18 months, there are no signs that the skills gap will close organically. Rather, there needs to be a concerted effort from the industry to address the issue and a commitment to both medium and long-term strategic solutions. 

The pandemic, Brexit and war have all played their part but IT skills have always been a hot commodity and organisations need to take a more proactive role in combating the skills gaps in their workforce through training, testing and certification. 

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