Furlough and the urgent skills gap for employers | NTT DATA

Wed, 10 February 2021

Furlough and the urgent skills gap for employers

Change is driven by major events, whether they are technology, innovation or world disasters. Major change is a revolution and not an evolution. Throughout history there have been major changes driven by technology from; the invention of the wheel, the invention of the printing press and the invention of cloud computing. Throughout history there have been major changes driven by world disasters; including the extinction of the dinosaurs, including world wars and including global pandemics. I would argue that for the first time in history we have a major technology revolution happening at the same time as a major world disaster.

COVID-19 has been an event unlike anything in generations. The pandemic has acted as a catalyst for digital transformation and in doing so, has created a unique opportunity. Whilst COVID-19 has been putting jobs on the line, it has also increased the digital skills gap and given the opportunity for many furloughed workers to begin actively reskilling. The skills gap within the technology industry is nothing new, but the pandemic is the ultimate catalyst for businesses to start building a workforce fit for the economy of the future.

The push to reskill

NTT DATA UK’s latest research shows that 62 percent of furloughed workers are currently uncertain about their future, hoping not to enter an occupational limbo when the furlough scheme ends. Although this may seem rather bleak, many of these individuals have used their time spent at home as an opportunity to reskill.

Half of furloughed workers are considering a career move, however only 13 percent are taking action in the hope of moving industry. Businesses need to show these furloughed workers what options are available and how they can make the change. Technology has been the great success story of the pandemic, keeping the economy going during lockdown and friends and families connected from afar. It is, therefore, unsurprising that the majority of furloughed workers are changing to a career in technology, making it the most popular choice for those considering a change. There is a huge variety of digital roles for jobs available and you only have to look at events like Consumer Electronics Show (CES) for ideas. CES is an incredible showcase of innovation in areas like artificial intelligence, personal transport, and health technology.

These results also reflect the changing shape of currently furloughed industries such as hospitality and aviation, which may struggle to return to business as usual. As technology is so crucial for the future of the economy, this decision to reskill should provide some stability for furloughed workers when COVID-19 is a distant memory.

The question is, are employers doing enough to support this surge in interest?

Attracting the right talent with the right skills is no easy task. Business leaders must search for creative hiring strategies as they plot out the course from this pandemic. Unfortunately, a lack of diversity of talent is hindering the process. NTT DATA’s research found that men are twice as likely to go into the tech industry after furlough than women and 43 percent of furloughed individuals believe that they aren’t qualified enough to enter the industry - more than the number of people who just aren’t interested.

Perhaps this is due to lingering outdated perceptions about what a career in technology looks like. In reality, the portfolio of tech-based roles is enormous; analytics, UX, product managers, data scientists, the list goes on, and these roles require a very diverse range of skills. Each one is critical to the future of the tech industry.

The solution

To overcome this issue, we must once again start with education. There remains a lack of understanding of what it means to go into a STEM career, which is slowing the flow of young minds into the industry. This education starts with schools, nurturing an interest in STEM through practical teaching and extracurricular activity in critical fields such as coding, engineering and digital design. NTT DATA’s research showed, unsurprisingly, that younger people are twice as likely to be actively reskilling to change careers in comparison with those over 50, so clearly young people are open to embracing new opportunities and we need to harness this interest and make it a reality.

Beyond education, careers advisors, recruitment agencies and companies must all be aware of this issue so that it can be properly addressed. Awareness is the first step, and business leaders should make this a priority. At NTT DATA, we are working incredibly hard to attract a diverse group of people into STEM through multiple initiatives.

NTT DATA’s Tech Academy, for example, is a great demonstration of how businesses can intertwine recruitment with skills development and at the same time, tackle the issue of diversity. The Tech Academy is a recruitment initiative that is open to everyone. By taking a new approach to recruitment, NTT DATA is able to offer job opportunities to a broad range of individuals that have little to no background in technology and might otherwise not be considered. The comprehensive training programme gives those enrolled the skills and experience to get a fulltime role in the technology industry.

Final thoughts

The COVID-19 pandemic has been monumental in sparking change in our society. For those on furlough, COVID-19 has provided an opportunity to reskill and change career, with many of those reskilling looking to STEM as the best option. This confluence of two major tectonic changes happening in the world at the same time should inspire business leaders to nurture technology skills in the widest pool of candidates possible. Ensuring that everyone, regardless of their race, gender, age or sexual orientation, has the crucial skills and qualifications to thrive in the digital economy of the future is essential for the economic recovery in the months and years ahead.

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