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From the dot-com bubble to today’s yo-yoing workforce – how to shrink the technology skills gap

From the dot-com bubble to today’s yo-yoing workforce – how to shrink the technology skills gap

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Jamie Jefferies, Vice President and General Manager of EMEA at Ciena, discusses the need for an agile, skilled and prepared workforce in today’s digital age. He talks about the importance of attraction and retainment of millennial employees and the need to ensure staff feel valued with room for progressional growth within the business.

The mention of a skills shortage or gap in the technology sector is not something new. It is an issue the industry is very much aware of and there are new incentives rolled out each year to spark interest among the younger/millennial generation. 

Technology is ingrained in our everyday lives and with the emergence of new applications and innovations such as 5G, AI and IoT, there is a lot of opportunity that the industry can offer. But this fast-paced environment means organisations need to have an agile, skilled and prepared workforce. We also need to make sure we are encouraging the next generation of employees and providing them with the chance to experience the world of technology and enabling them to pursue areas they are interested in with the right tools, applications and support.

The impact of the dot-com bubble on today’s workforce

The technology space is growing and there is a strong appetite in the market for us to continue innovating in today’s digital world. Consumers want the latest gadgets and devices and almost everyone that wants a smartphone or laptop has one. Advancements in technology is seeing us moving towards a world of Smart Cities and autonomous cars. This presents endless opportunities for people to pursue, highlighting the need for software developers, engineers and networking experts, to name but a few, which is necessary to support this growth in the industry. Everything from the boom in consumer electronics to what this does from a networking standpoint places more demand on the industry, opening up the opportunity and job availability for the next generation of workers.

The challenge however, is this demand and opportunity has not always been the case and for several years the technology industry went through a difficult period. In the early 2000s, the dot-com bubble burst and as a result, many companies had to shut down and others had to significantly reduce headcount to stay afloat. Networks were over built, there was too much capacity, not enough applications and a lot of hype – once this all caught up, the market started to consolidate and many new and upcoming tech start-ups failed. As such, the tech space was considered high risk and when talent was needed, it was difficult to find as many people started to pursue a career elsewhere looking for a more stable alternative.

Tackling the challenge of so much choice and a yo-yoing workforce

The technology industry has gone through rapid change, it rises and falls very quickly which creates a yo-yoing or fluctuating effect. And it is difficult to predict when the industry will peak. Fast forward to today, although the technology industry is flourishing, the dot-com burst has had a knock-on effect, particularly in terms of the workforce demographic. However, this isn’t the only implication, we are also faced with the other side of the coin and as there is so much choice for employees in the industry both in terms of organisations to work for and different sectors to pursue, it is difficult to attract and retain talent.

Today, a job for life is hardly recognised, making it difficult for organisations to retain a steady workforce. Although this idea may have diminished several years ago, typically people only moved jobs perhaps four or five times. Today, the millennial generation is taught to expect over 10 different jobs which may span across varying industries. It is understandable as people want to grow and develop as well as feel valued and challenged.

While changing jobs frequently means employees have a broad spectrum of skills and knowledge, it has left some organisations unable to keep refined talent or experts within a particular field. This job hopping can have an impact when it comes to skilled roles like engineering – as a critical part of this role is down to experience and time served. But if businesses keep their staff happy by providing them with access to new experiences and challenges then this doesn’t have to be an obstacle.

Recruiting talent is a competitive business

New recruits can fit in well with the team, be on a competitive salary and enjoy the culture but ultimately get attracted by a different company. It appears as though there is a job around every corner and employees are tempted via LinkedIn recruiters on a weekly if not daily basis. You might only have to catch someone on a bad or stressful day and they could make a jump. Especially if they feel they are undervalued or are not experiencing new possibilities in their current assignment.

In addition, we are in a time where tech start-ups are growing and these businesses offer a young culture, with an attractive work environment. Look at businesses such as Facebook and Google – they were founded with a millennium start-up mentality and are based on a campus offering a dynamic and different work culture. But employees move on from these organisations showing it isn’t all about the perks – the way to keep talent is to value employees, utilise them and provide them with the opportunity to grow in the company. Providing the younger generation with the right tools and applications to facilitate development is also critical. In addition, employees tend to work harder when they feel empowered and are provided with flexibility and opportunities to work remotely, which can help to not only foster trust and nurture a positive relationship, but it allows businesses to pull from a greater range of talent – focusing on the best person for the job, rather than being restricted by location.

Shrinking the skills gap

In addition, it’s important to focus on recruitment at the grass roots – technology companies can set themselves apart and attract and retain talent by developing relationships with universities, offering supportive and structured programmes for all employees and looking at recruitment through apprenticeships as well as graduate programmes. Collaboration is also a key part of this and it is important to establish young ambassadors within the company, not only to advocate but also to voice any concerns and work as part of the team.

New and young employees can also bring innovative ways to work. Fresh ideas can help to break the mould and change some of the bad habits we fall into – so it’s important to embrace their ideas, bring new starters into different areas of the business and also to show them they are valued.

There is a move towards industry collaboration when it comes to diversity and inclusion and this is something we are getting better at. There are many advocates that talk about diversity and numerous networking events which run throughout the year but this is something we can do more of when it comes to talking about youth in the sector. 

However, one major factor that is not as widely addressed when it comes to the skills gap is ensuring that as a business we are including everyone regardless of age or gender. Millennials are of course a critical part of this conversation and we should do more to support their inclusion but its fundamental to ensure we look full circle. Diversity and balance is key but the skills gap can be felt in all areas of the business and it’s important to ensure that as an industry we are fully inclusive regardless of age and gender.

Attracting and retaining talent is key

The technology space is becoming more exciting and there is no shortage of interest but it’s about attracting and retaining the right people. Part of this reignited interest in technology is due to the rise in innovations such as 5G, Smart Cities and Artificial Intelligence (AI). It’s exciting and tangible, almost every aspect of our lives is touched by technology in some way and people want to be a part of this development. At one-point, networking was a silent given, it either worked or it didn’t, but today there are tangible applications and devices being created around the network which is driving more interest.

Technology and the networking space in particular is an exciting sector to be a part of whether we are approaching this as a graduate, as an engineer or from a business management level. There are endless opportunities and networking is going to play a pivotal part of our future. Moving from technology that was in the background, to networks that will be an enabler of some of the best applications and innovations, will support how we apply skills both now and in the future.

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