Senior Vice President, People and Development

Side tackling the skills shortage

The IT skills shortage has been an issue for years, and is not going away anytime soon. In fact, as businesses strive to be more digital and data-led, the available pool of candidates is getting even smaller, explains Donna Bain, SVP People and Development Westcon-Comstor.

According to recent statistics, three-quarters of the UK IT industry claim they’re facing a digital skills gap – and two in three are struggling to recruit staff with the necessary skills.

Senior Vice President, People and Development

Attracting the right people, with the right skills is critical for any business.  It’s especially important for the channel, which heavily relies on its talent staying up to date on key technology and tools. So, how can partners best tackle this issue?

Attract talent as early in their careers as possible

Investments in technology are expected to grow to $4.6 trillion worldwide in 2023, but a lack of talent puts partners at risk of being unable to take advantage of this opportunity. While training can help upskill and develop existing employees, this issue needs to be addressed urgently, early in the recruitment process.

Young people entering the job market are largely unaware of the channel industry and the opportunities it brings, so from the get go, the applicant pool is already limited. Channel leaders need to find ways of communicating the possibilities that careers in their business can bring to the next generation, as early as possible. As an employer, it’s not only your job to fill positions within your own business, but also create opportunities for incoming generations within the wider industry.

Apprenticeship programmes are a smart way to grant young people the opportunity to kickstart their profession. Our apprenticeship programme in the UK is run in partnership with a government approved specialist, Global Knowledge Apprenticeships (GK), who we’ve worked with for over six years. Since its inception, 76% of our apprentices have been permanently employed at Westcon-Comstor. And we’re not stopping in the UK. In South Africa, we run bursary and learnership programmes that provide education and practical work experience opportunities for previously disadvantaged youth. We have a partnership with the University of Johannesburg where we sponsor top performing black, female students who are studying towards a degree in Information technology with the goal of offering them permanent employment at Westcon-Comstor once they’ve completed their degrees. In Spain, we run the Level Up programme which gives new entrants an opportunity to jump into the world of technology. Opportunities include earn-as-you-learn apprenticeships, with the option of permanent employment.

Supporting young talent through this early stage is not only beneficial to a business’ own resource pipeline in the short term, but is also a way of helping them navigate a new and exciting career, for the long-term.

Make sure inclusivity is front of mind, and build a diverse workforce 

The IT sector suffers from a serious image problem. Years of cultural bias have plagued the industry, discouraging diverse candidates from pursuing a career in tech. Currently, only 15% of the tech workplace are from BAME backgrounds. If the channel is going to address the skills gap it’s facing, it needs to find ways of recruiting outside of its usual candidate pool. Opportunities can be hard to access at a young age and this becomes even more challenging for those from disadvantaged and under-represented backgrounds. Providing fair opportunities will not only help to plug the skills gap, but also increase diversity within the sector for the greater good.

A company will only be successful in attracting and retaining diverse talent, if its culture is truly inclusive. Making sure that everyone in the business has a voice is imperative, so at Westcon we stage discussions around race, gender, identity, sexuality and disability as part of ERGs (Employee Resource Groups). Making sure hiring managers are up to date with the latest diversity and bias training is also important, as is making sure that success is celebrated widely, across the business.

It’s crucial to have diverse role models, too. Not only will those people attract diverse talent via their personal networks, but they’ll provide inspiration for future talent, especially when offering mentorship and guidance. They can help the new generation navigate cultural dynamics as they begin their careers – and importantly, act as visible proof that striving for career success is achievable for everyone, regardless of gender, race or identity.

Westcon-Comstor has an ongoing partnership with Migrant Leaders, a UK-based charity supporting first and second generation young migrants to help them reach their true career potential. The goal is to give young, diverse candidates first-hand experience, develop cross-functional skills across different teams and learn how business units collaborate to drive partner success – but perhaps most importantly, demonstrate that careers in technology can be fun and fulfilling.

Remember that future success is dependent on the next generation

A career in the channel has the potential to open doors for young people of all backgrounds, particularly smart, creative, passionate and innovative members of the Gen-Z community, who have grown up with technology. Finding ways to engage this group is not only important, but against the backdrop of the skills crisis – it’s imperative.

The future success of the channel industry is dependent on this next generation, so it’s our duty to help them realise their potential. What’s more, in this fast-paced, data-driven world, where new ways of thinking about partner engagement and customer expectations are so important – diversity of thought is sorely needed – and should be actively sought out. If the wider industry can get on board, not only will the immediate challenge of having the right resource in the right places be addressed, we’ll also affect the greater good in the long term.

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