Anna Gamal: Mind the Gap – How Remote Working Can Overcome the Skills Shortage

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The skills shortage in the UK is a growing concern, with it now accounting for more than one in five of all vacancies (22%), up from one in six (16%) in 2009. It is also a pressing issue in the technology sector where specialists have been in short supply. A survey from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) revealed that IT and computing in 2013 became the most in-demand skill area within the UK, moving up from second place.

The knock-on effect of this is that companies have to offer higher financial remuneration to compete.  For instance, the average salary for a vacant technology role in London has now risen to £48,307, compared to £38,274 in 2012.

This is 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.

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.

One of the main contributing factors to the current skills shortage has been the long term lack of emphasis on computing degrees and qualifications, and experts predict that it will take approximately 20 years for the situation to be rectified by current educational policies.  But what can businesses do to combat this now?

Finding qualified candidates suited to the role in the local area can prove a challenge for businesses. However, with nearly one in five office workers indicating that they would move away from urban areas if they could work flexibly, HR departments could potentially recruit from a wider selection of candidates, including those from rural areas, if more employees were offered the chance to work remotely using technology such as video conferencing.

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, as the national average salary for an IT professional outside the capital city is about £10,000 lower than in London.

Another potential way to reduce the existing IT skills shortage is to retain more women in the industry. According to the recent research from The Department of Trade & Industry, the majority of female IT professionals were considering leaving their jobs because they were unable to meet both work and family commitments. The women surveyed also said that increasing the availability of flexible or remote working would be the most important step in encouraging them to stay in IT.

Obviously remote working is not appropriate for all IT roles, for example, those working on support desks need to be in the office but UK businesses are not helping the skills shortage by demanding that all 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.

There’s also no reason why we couldn’t look outside the UK. Many organisations are already looking to hire individuals from nations which have a surplus of qualified young people. Brazil for example, has been investing heavily in STEM subject education. This has produced a vast quantity of qualified computing candidates with the added bonus of being multilingual in a globalised economy. Physically bringing non-EU workers to the UK, even for highly-skilled roles, can be complex, but now, thanks to modern video collaboration solutions, they no longer need to be in the UK to perform their role.

The sooner we embrace the opportunities that remote working presents for UK businesses, the sooner our technology skills shortage will become a thing of the past.

Anna Gamal, HR Business Partner EMEA, Polycom


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