The problem facing the UK is symptomatic of a long-running difficulty in workforce planning causing not just a shortage of skills, but a mismatch between the skills people have and the requirements of the jobs they currently occupy, says Jill Dann FBCS CITP. She looks at the value that SFIA 6 can add.

A record number of people in the UK are in employment and immigration is also at a record level. Unemployment is well below that experienced during the recession and subsequent period of uncertain recovery. There were 740,000 job vacancies, close to the highest on record, and an 8.5 per cent increase on the previous year.

So why are people still unemployed in the UK and why are recruiters reporting such large numbers of candidates for each position advertised - a shortage of IT skills? A BBC business survey suggests that employers value migrants from the EU because local candidates lack required technical skills.

The problem facing the UK is symptomatic of a long-running difficulty in workforce planning causing not just a shortage of skills, but a mismatch between the skills people have and the requirements of the jobs they currently occupy. This is exacerbated by the rapid pace of technological change and shifting consumer preferences:

Growth in demand and type of skill

  • 99% of companies will either increase or maintain current levels of technical specialist employment during 2015.
  • Four out of ten (38%) large companies recruited technical specialists in the past year.
  • More businesses are adopting strategically important technologies to safeguard their businesses and to deliver new opportunities.
  • Two out of every three businesses (62%) now have cyber security systems in place and almost as many (59%) use mobile computing.

Recruitment

  • Four in ten (42%) of all organisations recruiting technical specialists reported some or all of the positions as hard to fill.
  • 85% of hard to fill positions are difficult to recruit for due to a lack of candidates with the required skills qualifications/experience.
  • One in five large companies had vacancies for junior level tech specialist staff in the past year.
  • Four in ten (39%) junior technical specialist roles are filled by those leaving full-time education.

Skills gaps

  • Shortages have been rife for quite a while now in the engineering and digital sectors. Almost three-quarters (72%) of large firms that employ technical specialists identified tech skills gaps within their workforce and 49% of smaller companies are suffering from gaps between the skills held and the skills needed by their tech specialists.
  • Of the businesses identifying skills gaps with their technical workforce, 96% stated that missing key technical skills was a problem.
  • Those businesses rated the average proficiency of their technical workforce at 79%.

Training

  • A quarter (24%) of employers cited a lack of training as a major reason for skills gaps in their tech workforce.
  • Large employers are nine times more likely than SMEs to use FE colleges for employee training.

Equally young people need the skills, attitudes and aptitudes valued by employers to achieve the necessary productivity (the amount of output produced for every unit of labour). In a system where learner choice plays an increasingly important role, it is ever more important for young people to access good information, advice and guidance on the likely skills needed by employers in the future.

BCS could help a great deal in supplying schools and colleges with access to good information, advice and guidance on skills choices leading to a variety of employment options. The key issue is the long-term nature of the challenge, because young people start to make choices in education that will affect the skills needed in their career as much as a decade before they will enter the workplace, by which time technology and consumer preferences will have changed radically.

In terms of productivity, the UK continues to lag behind countries such as Germany, the US and France, potentially due to the fact that there may be mismatches between the skills available in the UK labour force and employers’ needs or expectations.
The need for new skill sets and evolving roles are in demand at a rapidly growing rate, so putting someone on a career path that doesn’t have any room to develop is not only a career-limiting move for the employee, but a business-limiting move for the company.

To tackle these issues strategically, organisations can use the SFIA framework to improve their people management processes such as organisation and role design, succession planning, recruitment training and development, career development, talent management and performance management.

SFIA is a key enabler for organisations creating technical (non-management) career paths; not everyone wants to progress solely by taking on increasing people management responsibilities. Technology careers attract all types of people and a percentage of those will simply not be interested in managing people, but business leaders need to offer fulfilling positions for technical specialists or risk losing them.

Do not underestimate the costs of not providing non-management IT career paths; it is not solely the cost of employee turnover, but costs can range from tens of thousands of pounds to several times an employee’s annual salary.

In 2015 it is a candidate-driven marketplace for technical specialists and top candidates are in the driver’s seat. They have multiple employment options, so recruiters must increase hiring speed whilst offering a great candidate experience. Hence a mobile platform dominates every aspect of recruiting for those who want to capture the better candidates; individuals should be able to apply for a job directly from their mobile phones.

Because of its flexibility and high response rate, the mobile platform should be the primary mechanism for:

  1. Updating CVs with skills and capabilities. (SFIA provides a capability structure rather than just tick-box software packages);
  2. Communicating with prospects/candidates, including internal staff;
  3. Scheduling interviews;
  4. Spreading your brand messages as an employer;
  5. Offering live hangouts/meetups;
  6. Pushing relevant open jobs to applicant communities;
  7. Viewing recruitment and job description videos for employer branding, video employee profiles, video job postings, even job offers.

Videos make it easier for candidates to see and feel the excitement at your firm. Online video now accounts for 50 per cent of all mobile traffic; viewing videos rather than static pictures or reading text has become widely accepted.

Using SFIA 6 in recruitment and selection

Assessing the capability of candidates is not a widespread strength of employers in the UK. Even Google admits to using questions unlikely to be a great predictor of success in a role. Structured interviews can be composed for skills identified in SFIA 6, which can be used in recruitment to more accurately allow the candidate to provide clear evidence of capability and to give specific examples of past success.

This can be a good risk management mechanism and evaluation tool in the form of a grid which the interviewers can use to compare notes afterwards. Employers could produce work sample tests which would contribute to testing candidates’ likely performance in a role.

The structured interview can assess the behavioural competencies by asking about previous examples as well as placing candidates in a hypothetical but relevant situation and assessing how they might handle it using their native intelligence, cognitive ability and skill at learning. Character traits and attitudes such as being diligent and requiring low levels of supervision to achieve the goals need to be evaluated as well.

There is no arguing that structured interviews take time and effort to prepare but the results should speak for themselves in terms of selecting well-matched individuals who are proven competent in the role and are retained with the company.

Gender equality in IT

Recent research has found that with gross weekly earnings of £650 per week, female IT specialists are earning only 84% of the rate for males working in similar positions during 2014 (£770 per week). The difference in female and male pay rates appears to be greatest amongst ‘professional’ level IT positions.

BCSWomen SG Chair, Gillian Arnold said: ‘One issue still largely unaffected by recent changes is the gender pay gap. Industry leaders need to think seriously about the impact of the gender pay gap on the retention of women in tech. Women have such potential to contribute to our profession, and we need to prove to all that we are forward thinking and fair to all of our workers. And the industry will have the chance to get the breadth of input from all sections of society that will keep it vibrant and forward-looking.’

Summary

BCS can support employers by providing experts to set up processes and materials, augment an interview panel or assist employers who feel they underutilise their workers’ skills. The SFIA Foundation already provides considerable support. There is a worldwide SFIA User Forum that is a growing community of SFIA users exchanging experiences and knowledge in order to help each other implement and manage the Skills Framework. It also has a broader interest in developing the capability of Business Change and IT professionals whose roles and careers are covered by the SFIA framework. SFIA users or potential users can join at the SFIA Users LinkedIn Group.

What is SFIA6 and SFIAplus?

The Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) provides the most widely accepted and globally used description of skills required in today’s digital world. It is used in a range of industries and covers the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. It can be downloaded from the SFIA website. BCS run SFIAplus, which adds detailed training and development resources to provide the most established and widely adopted IT skills, training and development model.

What does the SFIA framework look like?

The framework is a large matrix with the first dimension showing level of responsibility and the second, skills.

What is a SFIA Level of Responsibility?

SFIA describes 7 levels of responsibility. They each describe four key dimensions of responsibility: autonomy, influence, complexity and business skills. The SFIA levels and the range of SFIA skills make it easy to decide where your interests and capabilities lie and what experiences you might need to move upwards, sideways or downwards. Equally the SFIA framework allows the organisation to communicate which skills and levels are part of the IT organisation’s current and future requirements.

What are SFIA skills?

SFIA describes 97 professional skills. Each skill has an overall definition and then a more detailed descriptor for whichever of the seven levels of that skill is valid. There are a total of 362 skill level descriptors.

What is the scope of SFIA skills?

SFIA describes skills required by a professional in jobs & roles involving ICT. The 97 skills are grouped into six categories: Strategy & Architecture, Change & Transformation, Development & Implementation, Delivery & Operation, Service Management, Skills & Quality and Relationships & Engagement. They provide definitions for all skills needed by people and organisations involved in delivering and exploitinginformation and digital technologies.

Read more about SFIAplus