Last month I spoke at the Digital Jobs Summit in Leeds on the behalf of Educating All and RECLAIM. The conference was put together by Tech North to address the skills shortage within the technology sector, the growth of the industry and its contribution to a thriving North.

The panel, on the ‘demand from companies and the culture of work’, was hosted by Tech North’s Talent Manager, April Williams. The event was lively and engaging, offering up different perspectives on the topics discussed from recruiters, technology firms, educators, policy makers and charities.

So what is the problem?

The tech industry is seen as ‘progressive’, but there is some way to go before it is truly diverse and inclusive.

The problem of building a diverse workforce starts with the size of the talent pool available. Tech industry workers tend to be much more highly educated than other workers and in 2015 just over six in ten (62%) were found to hold some form of higher education qualification. Educating All research showed that 74% of state school educated students felt that class was a barrier when integrating at university. Tech firms are particularly exposed to the impacts of this barrier.

Data pulled from the Tech partnership data sheet found that just under one quarter (23%) of tech industry workers in 2015 were female compared with nearly half (47%) of all workers during that period. One in ten people (10%) working in the tech industries were classed as having a work limiting disability, a lower proportion than the workforce as a whole.  More than eight in ten people working in tech businesses (84%) were of white ethnic origin, also a lower proportion than the workforce as a whole.

The relaxed approach and culture often associated with digital firms, especially new ones, can offer plenty of benefits. Addressing diversity and inclusion in the industry, however, requires a deliberate and focused approach.

Why is there a skills shortage and what can be done?

Companies are struggling to fill ICT related roles, the CBI’s 2016 education and skills survey reported a 90% increase in the demand for high skill staff in the engineering, science and and hi-tech sector. It is time to look outside the box and freshen up hiring practices. Forward-thinking firms are looking at what they can do to support young people without many years of experience to develop themselves on the job. This can be particularly beneficial for people from working class or non-traditional backgrounds, who are statistically less likely to have higher formal qualifications and have fewer pathways into early-career experience, and should be adopted more widely across the industry.

Investing in young talent can prove to be a cost effective and rewarding model in the long term, as well as engendering commitment from the people who will drive the future of individual businesses and the industry. Companies should work closely with schools and colleges, as well as universities and charities. RECLAIM has vast experience of working with young people to develop their entrepreneurial and employment skills, in addition to an extensive cohort of young people on programmes, such as Fairer Futures, Power at the Periphery and Team Future.

Culture, belonging and people like me

Educating All and Fairer Futures research shows that for working class young people or those from non traditional backgrounds, perceptions of what is available to them and what they are capable of can be a significant barrier as they are often less likely to put themselves forward for a role. Part of this is access to networks that are not traditionally available to those from working class backgrounds.

There are often subtle cultural norms that are unfamiliar to those from working class or non traditional backgrounds, or certainly very much more familiar to those with a more middle class upbringing. This in combination with the demographic makeup of the tech industry or individual firms can be alienating, viewed as ‘not for me’ by a perceived outsider. A firm’s ‘institutional culture,’ as created by the makeup of its staff, can be a source of great strength. There is a danger for firms with too much homogeneity, however, where cultural capital, ways of speaking or dress and even ways of thinking act to restrict the potential of a firm to recruit the most talented individuals, or to innovate. This is clearly of crucial importance to the tech industry. When looking to address recruitment challenges and skills gaps in the sector, understanding the link between diversity, innovation and the long term health of the industry across the UK will be vital.

RECLAIM’s Educating All and Fairer Futures programmes have been developed to work with institutions to create tailored solutions in order to support universities and businesses tackle these pressing issues.

If you’re interested in the topics discussed in this article or want to find out more contact

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