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Digital leadership skills gap: crisis and opportunity

digital skills gap tech

The Chinese word for ‘crisis’ is represented by two characters, ‘危 機’ (wei ji), which separately translate as ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity.’ Together they express the potential for turbulent times to bring forth unforeseen possibilities.

If Brexit and Covid-19 presented two crises for the UK and its economy, the UK tech sector has successfully seized upon the opportunities within. But danger is still close by.

An ever-widening digital leadership skills gap within the UK tech sector means that tech organisations lack the qualified professionals to efficiently deliver transformation plans. When that happens at scale, the UK tech sector risks losing dominance on the global stage and the nation’s economic recovery will slow.

As the Chinese language has taught us, however, opportunity is never far away.

The UK education sector stands in an ideal position to tackle this challenge and upskill the national workforce for a post-Covid, post-Brexit world. Arming a new generation of tech professionals with the up-to-date skills to deliver groundbreaking new services, higher education can be the country’s saving grace.

Value of the UK tech industry

Increasing dependence on tech solutions for work and home life has led to an acceleration of digital transformation like we have never seen before. As a result, the UK technology sector is growing 2.5 times faster than the overall economy, and is worth nearly £184bn of the UK’s GDP, with a valuation of $1tn in 2021.

Reflecting this exciting growth trend, UK tech job vacancies have soared. According to UK government statistics, UK tech job vacancies rose by 50% between 2020 and 2021, to make up as much as 12% of all available jobs in the UK.

Though this is good news for job seekers, it’s less than ideal for hiring managers.

The digital skills gap: a giant threat to growth

Following both Covid-19 and Brexit – two crises that impacted productivity and wage growth across the country – UK organisations are now facing a lack of qualified professionals with relevant digital skills.

Alongside hard skills in software development, AI and data analytics, the industry is in serious need of facilitators with leadership skills to bring about radical changes.

“In the digital talent pool,” a McKinsey report explains, “demand has long outstripped supply. Requirements for agile skills are four times greater than the number of people available for these roles.”

Examples of these agile skills include communication, collaboration, problem-solving and analytical thinking; all highly sought after for roles in tech management and digital transformation.

Considering these challenges, there is a strong economic case for upskilling and reskilling tech workforces across the country. Tech organisations should be working more actively with education providers to drive forward productivity, innovation and stable growth.

“It’s about anticipating the right skills for the future, laying the cultural foundation, delivering modern upskilling programmes, and building a learning and development function with the right EdTech to deliver a vastly better return on upskilling investment,” states a PwC on upskilling for the digital world.

Higher education is key to bridging the tech skills gap

Higher education has a critical role to play in bridging the tech skills gap, not only providing technical qualifications but also the business acumen, practical skills and experience to lead tech teams and drive transformation.

Higher education institutions that engage with the technology industry to plan a brighter future and create a highly skilled talent pool are essential to maintaining tech industry growth.

Ulster University is one of these institutions. With a firm eye on graduate employability, Ulster designs its 100% online Masters programmes to promote professional development in a wide range of priority skills including analytical ability and soft skills such as strategic vision, leadership and emotional intelligence.

Study a Masters in tech leadership with Ulster University

Financial incentives for upskilling

Although investing in education is a big decision, the financial incentive for upskilling is hard to ignore.

The most in-demand tech skills are paid handsomely.

According to Sifted, salaries across the tech sector rose dramatically between 2020 and 2021, to an average mid-level salary of £62,000, increasing further for the most in-demand skills sets such as engineering and software development.

Salaries in tech management likewise have seen rapid growth as employers scramble to achieve their transformation efforts. Mid-level product managers and product leaders both saw wage growth of 9% (to averages of £65,000 and £123,000 respectively), but the biggest jump in wages was seen by candidates progressing from mid to senior-level management roles.

Achieving the most lucrative salaries requires up-to-date industry skills and several years of work experience. Tech professionals can also consider undertaking postgraduate leadership programmes to earn a fast track into management roles.

Online learning at Ulster

Ulster University Business School (UUBS) is one of the largest business schools in the UK and a model example of how higher education can help solve the skills gap crisis for both employees and employers. UUBS’ online Masters courses provide flexible and innovative learning journeys for motivated professionals.

The online Business in Tech MSc is built for working professionals around the world who require flexible, part-time solutions for career development in tech. This industry-ready course aims to provide advanced leadership and management training for a new generation of tech sector leaders.

With a balance of theory and practical, real-world projects, the Business in Tech MSc builds the vital skills and hands-on experience to lead tech transformation, providing the UK tech sector with the talent needed to remain competitive.

Learn more about the Business in Tech MSc at Ulster University

In partnership with Ulster University Business School.