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Upskilling, retraining and innovative recruitment will address tech skills shortage says WISE as it launches latest research

Key findings

  • 72% of survey respondents did not have an undergraduate computing degree of which 29% did not hold a STEM undergraduate degree of any kind.
  • Women were more likely to re-train for a job in the tech sector than men; 15% of female respondents had re-trained compared with 7% of men.
  • Employers particularly valued the transferable skills of mid-career women who had retrained into tech careers.
  • WISE finds some evidence for a new gender divide in the roles men and women choose in tech.

A computing degree is not a compulsory qualification for those working in tech according to the new ‘Exploring Pathways into Tech Careers research report published today by WISE, an organisation that aims to achieve gender equality in STEM by driving diversity in sectors across the UK.

Just 28% of survey respondents held a computing degree, while 43% held STEM subject related degrees (excluding computing) and a further 29% had degrees unrelated to STEM subjects.  WISE believes this, along with other insights from its research, provides employers with an opportunity to think more creatively about how they might fill their tech skills gaps.

Kay Hussain, Chief Executive Officer of WISE, explains: “When one considers that latest estimates suggest we need 1.5m additional people with advanced skills in the next two years, it’s clear that 26-28k UK computer science graduates a year, are not going to be enough. Employers need to remove the barriers to entry for those from non-computing backgrounds and be increasingly creative in how to find new talent from non-traditional sources.

“Set against a dire skills shortage, it makes little sense that women are still under-recruited, under-retained and under-promoted in tech roles.  All participants in our research agreed the way a person thinks and approaches their work is more important than having a computing degree. Our advice to employers is to focus on the skillset required for roles rather than qualifications alone – doing this is likely to widen their recruitment pool considerably.”

WISE’s latest research aims to identify skills gaps in current tech and digital technology training routes, and to discover more about the routes employees have taken to get into a tech career (both traditional and non-traditional).

The survey confirms the importance and value of transferable skills for STEM employers; around half of the research interviewees arrived into their tech role via a non-traditional route, either by re-training or using existing skills.  Interviewees reported that their original, often non-STEM qualifications, had given them useful competencies.  Among the most valued were communication, leadership, logic and data analysis, creative problem solving and an enthusiasm for learning.

Kay adds: “More than 50% of tech workers interviewed said non-tech skills such as communication were more important in their day-to-day roles than technical programming or coding skills. I hope that recognising the value of transferable skills will encourage more women to apply for tech positions and build new careers in these highly paid, high impact roles.”

Other key research findings include:

  • Women are more likely to take part-time courses than men; 60% of courses taken by respondents were part time overall, women were 50% more likely to have studied part-time compared with their male colleagues.
  • Companies are increasingly turning to corporate universities and online training academies to train and upskill staff.

WISE also warns of a potential new gender divide in in the roles men and women choose in tech. The organisation points to data gathered during interviews suggesting that women and men are choosing different career paths through the subjects they take as additional qualifications. The WISE survey results showed that men tend to upskill into roles such as systems engineering or systems architecture while women are choosing to upskill into product and project management, and business and management roles.

Kay Hussain, WISE’s Chief Executive Officer, explains: “Arguably these roles do require a computer science degree or at the very least fairly lengthy in-house training. The move to the cloud and increased use of software versus hardware means that this traditional training is required less frequently than it once was, but it remains imperative that we continue to push for a better gender balance in traditional Computing education to achieve gender parity in these areas too. This push should run alongside the broadening of recruitment practices and the recognition of transferable skills.”

WISE makes several recommendations for employers looking to increase their attraction, retention and retraining of employees, including:

  • Remove the barriers to entry for new workforce entrants from non-computing backgrounds looking to re-train
  • Increase emphasis on skills not qualifications in job adverts
  • Advertise career opportunities in unusual places to attract candidates who want to re-train and those who have been on career breaks
  • Offer mentoring and coaching opportunities to develop and retain staff
  • Collaborate with educators to improve transferrable skills for new workforce entrants
  • Increase the visibility of role models and careers advice

Kay concludes: “Building on the momentum of the changes employers made to working practices during the pandemic, UK tech businesses are in the perfect position to further diversify, create cultural change and close their skills gaps. Taking action now could place more talented, upskilled, and retrained women at the very heart of the UK’s tech industry.”

Survey infographics:

Routes into Technology Report


 Methodology: WISE surveyed 646 people (65% identified as female, 33% as male, 1% as non-binary & 1% as other) and interviewed 28 people currently working or wanting to work in the Tech sector, (18 identified as female and 10 identified as male). The survey and interviews were conducted between 1 February to 31 July 2021.

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