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How Remote Working Could Solve the UK Skills Shortage in the Technology Sector

06/06/2013 11:43 BST | Updated 06/08/2013 10:12 BST
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Despite the UK government's support of projects such as Tech City, qualified technology specialists are in short supply in the UK. A recent survey from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) found that in the UK IT and computing industries grew from being the second most in-demand skills area to the first. This isn't the only survey to highlight the disparity between industry growth and the available workforce. According to European Commission figures, there will be 300,000-800,000 IT-related vacancies across Europe by 2015. In fact, the European Commission has launched a 'grand coalition' to address the lack in native expertise across the region. But what can be done to tackle the issue in the UK right now?

The skills shortage has increased demand for IT and computing candidates, resulting in companies offering more and more financial remuneration to remain competitive in the job market. The average salary for a vacant technology role in London is now £48,307, compared to £38,274 a year ago. Great news for the in-demand applicants who can pick and choose, but a serious problem for organisations being forced to make cuts and rationalise spending due to the recession. When we look outside of the capital city, the figures change quite a lot; the national average is £38,185. If London-based companies could hire qualified applicants from anywhere in the UK they could in theory save around £10,000 per employee salary by allowing them to work remotely from their current location.

Obviously flexible working is not appropriate for all IT roles, for example, those working on support desks need to be in the office. However, modern technologies such as cloud storage allow employees to access their work from anywhere and remain productive.

One of the main aspects of the skills shortage is the lack of qualified candidates. It can be hard for companies to find the right person who lives locally and possess all the necessary skills. In a survey about 'The Working Day of the Future', nearly one in five office workers indicated that they would move away from urban areas if they could work flexibly. This suggests that UK employers could recruit from a greater pool of candidates from rural areas if more employees were offered the chance to work remotely. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found in its 2012 Reward Management Survey that flexible working was the most popular employee benefit, making roles that offer the opportunity to avoid the daily commute much more attractive to potential employees.

Research by the Department of Trade & Industry found that most female IT professionals interviewed said that were considering leaving their jobs because they were unable to meet both work and family commitments. Also that increasing the availability of flexible or remote working would be the most important step in encouraging them to stay in IT. In an age and industry where there is a lack of qualified candidates, organisations need to do more to retain the best employees. Offering remote working is one way of doing this, especially for those with young families.

The current skills shortage in the UK has been caused by a lack of emphasis on computing degrees and qualifications. The number of students enrolling on these courses is below the number of graduates required to fill vacant positions. It will take approximately 20 years for the current drive to increase student numbers in the relevant subject areas to produce sufficient candidates for the UK technology workforce. The rest EU is in the same position.

But there are other nations who are producing high quality computing students right now. For example, Brazil has invested massively in STEM subject scholarships and education and has a surplus of qualified, multi-lingual computing candidates ready to put their knowledge to the test. Unlike for EU residents it can be difficult for these individuals to gain the right to work in the UK. For example, Visa quotas for Brazilian nationals were cut recently by the UK government. But what if these candidates didn't even need to be in the same country, what if companies hired them to work remotely via video conferencing? The quality of video collaboration is more than sufficient in today's enterprise setting to allow employees to work from literally anywhere.

UK businesses are not helping the skills shortage by demanding that employees commute to and from offices. If companies enabled their employees to work from anywhere they could hire the best, most talented candidates regardless of where in the world they live. This would also reduce salary costs and ensure better quality employees, who are happy with the benefits offered by their roles.