DIGITAL MATTERS: Is the ICT skills shortage stifling economic growth?

Featured Blog Image

Countries worldwide are suffering from a shortage of IT staff, and the Isle of Man is no different in that regard.

A strategy that looks to fill this gap must be two-pronged at a minimum, looking both to increase the IT headcount on island through attracting foreign workers, and encourage homegrown talent to emerge and stay here.

We have already seen a negative impact on the economy of the IT skills shortage. While the Isle of Man is continuing to attract companies in a number of exciting and innovative fields, the shortage of people with the right skills mean these companies do not have sufficient talent to fuel and accelerate the development of these sectors.

The innovative nature of IT means that demand for new skills is continuing to outstrip supply and we are continuing to suffer from a shortage of ICT [information and communication technology] skilled staff.

The IoM’s National Income statistics for 2016/17 show that ICT and eGaming income makes up 28% of the national income, with the growth in eGaming during the year making it the largest sector within the island’s economy.

This is however only part of the story. The national income statistics measures income from companies specifically in the ICT/eBusiness/ eGaming sector: many other companies in sectors such as banking, insurance and professional services also employ and rely on ICT staff.

The inability to recruit staff with the required IT skillsets is preventing some companies from expanding on island. In some cases, this is forcing a decision either to move away or open offices in off-island jurisdictions where their skills requirements can be met – which impacts economic growth and results in a loss of revenue to the IoM Government.

The shortage of skilled workers and the resulting negative impact on economic growth has been recognised and there have been a number of positive initiatives which are helping to remove some of the barriers around IT resourcing.

The Department for Enterprise’s ‘Employee Relocation Incentive’ has been renewed and enhanced: the scheme provides 20% of the first year’s salary, up to £10,000 for new employees who move to the island for employment in key sectors at a salary of above £25,000.

This helps to offset the risks of off-island recruitment, thereby encouraging companies to bring skilled workers over to island to grow the local talent pool.

While the majority of job roles in the ICT sector are exempt from work permits, the definition of ‘partner’ had proved to be a significant barrier to job take up and diluted the effectiveness of the exception.

The work permit reforms, which were introduced 12 months ago, changed the definition of ‘partner’ and considerably simplified and accelerated the application process. This has resulted in 85%plus of applications being processed the same or next day.

Furthermore, during 2018, changes have been made to the immigration rules in respect of workers coming from outside of the EEA [European Economic Area].

A bespoke Isle of Man list of application occupations and key employment, which includes a number of ICT roles, has removed some barriers relating to non-EEA recruitment.

One of the key aims of the Government’s refreshed locate.im website is to attract skilled workers, helping to showcase the island as an attractive destination for people to choose to live and work.

Growing our skilled workforce by encouraging foreign workers to our soil is just one piece of the puzzle. As more and more jobs are being created in the technology space, it is critical that the island additionally grows its own talent pool and significantly increases the number of Manx students pursuing technology careers. To this end, there are a number of organisations in the island working with young people to encourage interest in STEM [science, technology, engineering and manufacturing] and ICT careers.

Code Club Isle of Man does a great job in engaging with young people and making ICT fun and interesting. Code Club has around 800 members and 25 volunteers. Demand for classes outstrips the number of courses that the club is able to run, which demonstrates that there is an appetite for learning ICT skills when courses are exciting and innovative.

The club is always on the lookout for new volunteers to help to expand the courses on offer.

A further issue for the global ICT sector is that it is typically male dominated. According to the European Commission, ‘fewer women are interested in participating in the digital sector, be it higher education, jobs or entrepreneurships.’

The recent study on women in the digital age confirms this worrying trend with only 24 out of every 1,000 female graduates having an ICT related subject - of which only six go on to work in the digital sector.

The findings of the study show that there is a decrease in this number when compared to 2011.

The study also found that if more women were to enter the digital jobs market, it could create an annual EUR 16 billion GDP boost for the European economy.

Recognising that women’s participation in the tech sector would provide a boost to the island’s economy, Love Tech IOM has been launched this year with a mission to inspire and empower girls and young women to explore opportunities in STEM through events and mentorship on the Isle of Man.

Love Tech’s vision is to imagine a world in which women and men have truly equal opportunities, representation and recognition in STEM.

There has already been a great response to the Love Tech events which demonstrates that there is a willingness for young women to engage with technology if presented in the right way.

The Manx ICT Association (MICTA), in conjunction with the Department for Enterprise and University College Isle of Man, are once again running a two-year digital apprenticeship scheme.

The apprenticeship combines paid workplace experience with classroom and remote learning and gives young people the opportunity to work in a wide range of companies in the ICT sector.

Employed.im is also running ‘Career Ready IoM’ with an information technology theme.

Under this scheme students get practical support for A-level computer studies, with regular meetings with a business mentor.

Students benefit from a paid internship of between four to six weeks and there are opportunities to apply for local IT jobs either post A-level at 18, or post-degree level at 21.

The Manx Educational Foundation (MEF) is largely a voluntary charitable body that seeks to co-ordinate the joint interests of education, economic development and development of individuals on the Isle of Man with particular interests in the ICT sector. MEF has recognised the importance of students entering the workplace with a solid understanding of the Microsoft Office suite and provides Microsoft Office skills training and qualifications to students at island high schools. These initiatives are all steps in the right direction with good progress being made to increase the ICT talent pool.

More however needs to be done as, due to the continued growth in the eBusiness and ICT sectors, the ICT skills gap remains significant. Growth in the Manx economy is increasingly being driven by digital technology, and as such ICT skills will play an ever-increasingly important role in future economic growth.

A skills strategy is needed and a core arm of this strategy must relate to education.

The Isle of Man needs to ensure that its education system is working towards equipping students with the required technological skills to meet current and future challenges associated with digital disruption.

There needs to be a joined up strategy to deliver outstanding ICT education across all of our primary and secondary schools with more of our young people being encouraged and inspired to choose a career in ICT, studying both on and off island. Teachers need to be trained – and remain trained – with current knowledge in ICT skills, which rapidly evolve.

Back in 2013, the Isle of Man Government’s 2020 vision strategy for IT stated ‘meeting these (IT) skills needs will be a huge challenge.

‘It requires a greater alignment of the school and further education curricula with the needs of the economy’. This statement remains largely true today.

The sector can sometimes bear the legacy of outstanding negative perceptions about ICT meaning desk-bound, isolating and repetitive jobs. The current ICT curriculum in some of the island’s schools may reinforce these negative stereotypes by presenting an outdated view of the industry which can discourage Manx students from taking ICT higher education courses despite the extremely good recruitment prospects. A shortage of teachers with relevant and up-to-date IT skills in island schools may also be a negative factor in this regard.

The formation of the digital agency provides a great opportunity to help pull together a cohesive skills strategy, joining up different Government departments and the private sector to further increase economic growth and the wellbeing of our island.

Deb Byron is a non-executive board member of the Digital Isle of Man executive agency. An IOD-certified Director with over 35 years of ICT experience, Deb is director of IT for the Hansard Group who provide innovative financial products and services for international clients. A Fellow of the BCS, she is the chairman of the ICT and eBusiness committee for the Chamber of Commerce and a founding member of LoveTech, which has been created to inspire and empower girls to explore opportunities in STEM in the Isle of Man.

 

Share
  • Recent Posts