IT and engineering businesses still struggling to recruit graduate talent, ISE survey finds

The Student Recruitment Survey 2020 delves into the graduate recruitment market following COVID-19

Employers in IT and engineering are still struggling to recruit the graduate talent needed to plug the digital skills gap, according to the Student Recruitment Survey 2020 from the Institute of Student Employers (ISE).

With the economy plunging by a drastic 20% between April and June amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis, businesses in every field face a long road to recovery. As the founder of Tech London, Russ Shaw, explained in City A.M. back in August, it’s estimated that the existing digital skills gap costs the UK £63bn a year, and in the fallout of the pandemic – which has accelerated the digital transformation process in industries across the board, caused brand-new sectors to emerge and rapidly evolved traditional workplace structures –”that figure is only going to dramatically rise without decisive action”.

The ISE’s research shines a light on the challenges currently facing the graduate recruitment sector, revealing that the total number of jobs on offer across every UK industry has dropped by 12% this year – the most significant drop in graduate recruitment since the 2008/9 recession. Experts predict further decline as we move through 2021.

Businesses have been forced to implement significant adjustments to their practices in order to stay afloat, including dramatically cutting down on the placement and internship offerings. Both in-person and remote placements and internships have been slashed by 25% and 29% respectively – the largest decline the ISE has seen since it first started collecting data in 2010.

Despite this, competition for available opportunities has been high, with employers receiving 14% more applications for graduate roles, and 9% more for internships and work experience placements.

“With further falls expected next year, this could have a devastating impact not just on the labour workforce, but also the skills of tomorrow” – Agata Nawakowska, Skillsoft

Agata Nawakowska, AVP EMEA at Skillsoft, commented on the”worrying” decline in internship and placement opportunities: “With further falls expected next year, this could have a devastating impact not just on the labour workforce, but also the skills of tomorrow.

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“Indeed, the digital skills gap has been growing exponentially for some years, but the pandemic and global lockdowns have forced many businesses to embrace and expand online opportunities to stay afloat. This digital acceleration has put pressure on businesses to deliver, manage and secure new platforms. However, this research shows that IT and engineering businesses are still struggling to recruit graduates and find talent, suggesting that the available workforce is not equipped to meet the demand.”

The cybersecurity industry could be significantly affected by the cuts, with a recent ISC2 survey showing that women make up just under a quarter (24%) of this specialised workforce, despite the State of the SOC report 2020 confirming that almost 40% of the companies surveyed believe their security operations centre (SOC) is understaffed.

“This is a disparity that – to me – makes looking for skills in an all-but untapped female talent pool an obvious solution,” said Sam Humphries, security strategist at Exabeam.

“With sectors such as IT and engineering struggling to recruit staff despite leaving graduate jobs open, employers will need to cast [the] recruitment net far wider to bridge the technical skills gap” – Sam Humphries, Exabeam

“With sectors such as IT and engineering struggling to recruit staff despite leaving graduate jobs open, employers will need to cast [the] recruitment net far wider to bridge the technical skills gap. Women represent a small percentage of a workforce desperate for more skilled workers. It’s a broad issue affecting many industries, but one that is particularly pronounced in cybersecurity.

“My hope is that by exploring programmes that expose and encourage women and girls to the possibilities of an education and career in tech, we can help address the skills shortage by introducing new perspectives and problem-solving skills to the industry.”


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