More innovation to boost skills in IT is welcome

There are options for women to consider in upskilling or reskilling in IT when returning to the workplace
There are options for women to consider in upskilling or reskilling in IT when returning to the workplace

IT was good to read about more innovation to boost skills within the IT sector in Northern Ireland in the form of the female returners programme, Press Refresh. It has now helped 18 women returners in Northern Ireland in securing new jobs.

Launched in 2020 by Women in Business and Belfast Metropolitan College, Press Refresh is an intensive 17-week programme funded by the Department for the Economy to equip women returners with new skills necessary to build their careers within the IT sector.

The programme, which had 20 places available to women, received almost 300 applications and has already aided 18 of the 20 women in securing new roles.

Hopefully this programme will highlight to other women that there are options to consider in upskilling or reskilling in IT when returning to the workplace.

Often, when we talk about the skills shortage the focus is on school, university and college students and encouraging them into IT. This initiative shows that we should think differently about the challenge too. A recent report also highlighted that more people over 50 need to pick up IT skills to help close the skills gap.

The report from BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, found that while 31 per cent of the overall workforce is aged 50 and over, just 22 per cent of those working in IT are over 50.

BCS said this was well below the level of representation considered “normal” and warned it was another sign of the skills gap – where not enough workers are skilled in the digital technology that is now commonplace in modern working life and to meet demand from employers.

The institute said the need for digital skills had only increased during the coronavirus pandemic as more firms relied on remote working.

It pointed out that if representation of over-50s in the IT sector was equal to the levels seen in other sectors, there would be an extra 119,000 IT specialists in the UK in this age group (480,000 in total). On a per capital basis that would be nearly 7,000 extra IT workers in Northern Ireland.

We hear every day how firms in Northern Ireland are struggling to find the right skills and this is particularly true in the IT sector.

A recent NI Jobs Report highlighted that many sectors of the economy currently have record numbers of vacancies, creating a very competitive labour market in which skills are at a premium. Unsurprisingly, IT was one of the sectors with the highest number of vacancies in the latest report.

Some surveys suggested that almost 70 per cent of employers are struggling to find workers with the right skills. We need to provide more people – including young people, over 50s and female returners – with access to the support to help them develop the skills that the economy needs.

:: Patrick McAliskey is strategic adviser to Cancom, which delivers a range of technology services across the public and private sectors. It carries the highest accreditations from technology and software leaders, and its data centres hold many certifications, including Government Official Status.