Intel: UK's not turning out enough tech grads, so others are having to fill the gaps

Intel says the UK definitely has a skills gap but, like other multinationals, the company is doing its bit to help.
Written by Colin Barker, Contributor

It's not a crisis but it is a serious issue. The UK is still struggling to turn out enough technology graduates, or at least that's Intel's take.

To make matters worse, the government does not see the problem and isn't working fast enough to solve it.

ZDNet talked to Intel SVP and UK county manager Adrian Criddle to explore the options.

ZDNet: Can you give me some background on your career to date?

Criddle: I've been at Intel for 19 years in a number of roles. We went through a major restructure as we moved to a data-centric model as well as a PC-centric model and we decided to focus on top companies, globally, and the UK. The UK is about our sixth biggest company and I was appointed early in January.

Now, for a number of years we've been part of a European structure and this is the first time that we've been able to be UK-focused.

SEE: Digital transformation: A CXO's guide (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

Pretty much everything we have in the UK is either under my control, whether it's direct or indirect from facilities, health and safety, the business, the technology groups, our business unit groups, and our sales and marketing as well.

My title is vice-president and general manager of Intel UK, and I report up to the US.

When did the reorganistion take place?

We transitioned through Q4 2017 and officially from the 1 January this year. I've been recruiting the team and adjusting the team ready for success in 2018, and, obviously, setting out the plan for 2019 and focusing on a number of key areas where we want to thrive across the industries.


Criddle: "On the skills gap, I am not sure that we are executing as fast as we need to be."

Photo: Adam Bacher

The first one is to maintain the PC-centricity. We're very, very pleased that we've seen the commercial PC market up-tick in the UK despite all the headwinds that we've had.

The consumer [side] tends to be a little bit of a challenge but that's probably through external factors that we have in the UK.

Obviously, we want to drive our datacentre business which, in the UK, is incredibly healthy with many cloud service providers -- even enterprise and government and comms service providers in preparation for 5G. All that and the explosion of data. And to do that with a UK-centric team.

You're looking at design wins for technology with embedded IT. The IoT is pretty critical to us as well, and that morphs into artificial intelligence and future technologies that we're looking at -- data analytics, automation and so on -- and then drive them across the UK.

You're going to see a lot more focus from us around our key vertical segments and a greater spread and depth of our customers across the UK.

But also we're getting more involved with partners. We sell some of our products direct to customers, but also through our partners and ecosystems through some of our larger customers such as the multinationals and some of the larger OEMs as well.

You've highlighted the tech skills gap. What's you take on that?

Everything is moving very, very quickly and the technology and technology advancements have left the world a little bit behind, always trying to keep up with it.

The way that people were employed in IT 10 years ago is very, very different from now. Then, a database administrator was, specifically, administering a database.

Now, it's all about automation of the administrator through artificial intelligence. It's more about extracting the data through data science and analytics and then how you get to use the data to create business value.

That's just one example, but the skills gap has jumped a hundredfold in terms of people having a very different mindset on how they look at data and how data is analysed.

I don't think that the UK is behind anybody else. Obviously, the US tends to be a little bit ahead of us, but we are a very fast follower. And I think that industry and government have realised we've got to maintain a digital skills agenda.

SEE: Special report: IT jobs in 2020: A leader's guide (free PDF)

What I have certainly observed coming back into the UK ecosystem, what is acutely obvious, is that a lot of people talk about [the digital skills gap]. But I'm not sure that we are collectively -- as an industry, through the education system and through government -- I'm not sure we're executing as fast as we need to.

And then with the complexities of Brexit, in terms of migration into the new era, means obviously we're going under some review, in terms of our nationals and, especially, European nationals.

The UK education system has been turning out graduates, but also other economies around the world have been turning out far more technical graduates, and that's one or two of the issues that are leading into a bit of a skills gap.

Once the government looked at apprenticeships, we started to make sure that we don't just look at the talent pool coming out of universities through college graduates and the intern scheme.

With consultation through other companies, especially Cisco at the time, we would say, "Hey, there's a talent pool there of people who have come through the college system in the UK who have potential".

So, a couple of years ago we kicked off the apprenticeship scheme. Although we started with a couple of apprenticeships -- it was very small scale to start with -- the first apprentices have now completed that first three-year cycle, and we then point those people direct into the organisation.

It's been very successful because the mindset has been different and, also, you can start introducing corporate culture, business culture, etc. Also, what we do with our apprenticeship -- and also our internship is now really big -- is, we actually give them real jobs so that it's not just fill these spreadsheets or stuff these envelopes. We give them a real job and that really pays dividends.

I'd lean on the apprenticeship side of it, but I would also lean on the internship, which run for 13 months.

The other thing some technology companies and, especially some of our partners would certainly agree with is when we bring in these interns they are dealing with the latest technology. We're exposing them to the latest research, the latest products, even some of the products that are unannounced and are certainly under NDA.

Now that's something that they would never be exposed to -- certainly not in full-time education. That balance of industry expertise, industry knowledge, business acumen, business culture and, obviously, the education, is critical. That's what we have got to do more of.

And then, one of the things I think about is, how do we get that digital agenda further around the Cabinet table? Digital is not just about Digital Culture Media and Sport [the government ministry headed by the Jeremy Wright -- there have been five MPs in that role in the past year and a half ]. It's across transportation, it's across defence, HMRC, it's across all areas of government.

That digital agenda is incredibly important for us to be competitive as we look forward to the next three to five to 10 years.

Does that mean that you don't see a skills gap that's specifically in the UK?

No, [but] we do see a gap. I won't say it's not difficult, it still is. It takes a long time to find the right people. It's a very difficult market given that the UK government advises us that we are at full-time employment.

With the added uncertainty of what's going to happen next year, it's very hard to pull talent that may be required to increase overall productivity, certainly from other parts of the European Union.

Myself, I have had to go to other countries to pull specific resources into the UK to fill some of the gaps that I've got.

The great thing is that Intel has 100,000 people around the globe, so I have the ability to dip into different parts of it. But that takes time.

It can take up to six months to pull someone in, certainly from outside the EU. Obviously, time is a challenge or a delay because technology is moving forward all the time.

AWS has introduced a scheme whereby it is effectively reskilling people to help recruitment. Is your scheme the same sort of thing?

Internally, through our corporate culture and career development we're reskilling people. We're running career-development workshops inside Intel. We're looking for people to reskill themselves and we're having great success with that.

I use myself as an example. I came into Intel as a kind of technical business development person on the enterprise side but after a couple of years I went and ran consumer for two years, which was quite different.

SEE: Interview tips: How to land your next tech job (free PDF)

And then I transferred again. I ran multinational business across Europe, Middle East and Africa and then came back and I ran operations for a while, being customer-centric instead of internal, operations-centric.

I'm an absolute believer that we should give people the opportunity to explore their full potential.

But that's not going to get us to where we need to get to over the next four or five years with the changing landscape of artificial intelligence, analytics and so on. You can't just retrain everybody, you have to go and seek people with a very different mind-set.

In terms of Brexit, how do you think that as a company you can prepare for that?

It's quite complex and I don't really want to go into the detail of how complex it is because our business model is obviously very different to the business model that other companies may have.

Internally, I've recruited a Brexit plan manager and planning director and they're currently working across multiple divisions within my organisation.

From finance and legal, from treasury, supply chain, export compliance, VAT registration and all that type of stuff. They are working on building a contingency plan for building scenario A or scenario B.

What we're also doing is reaching out to industry bodies such as the CBI, Institute of Directors and then we're also reaching out to some of the ecosystem players or our customers. Whether it is local OEMs, multinational OEMs, software providers, logistics providers, or retailers, we're obviously reaching out to all of those people as well.

We're building a contingency plan, which is supported by the board worldwide, on just making sure that we're acutely ready.

What about STEM, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education, and where that's working?

We're very active in STEM. Our local office is in Swindon so we're doing a lot of work in the Swindon area.

We also do a lot of work at a national level and we do that through engaging with our partners. We've just done something very large around college funding with one of our partners.

We also have a very vibrant and active volunteering programme with Intel. As part of our 50th Anniversary this year our executive office worldwide has asked every employee to contribute a number of hours into volunteering activity and quite a lot of that is around STEM activity.

And over the summer we also offered a Kids to Work Day which was incredibly successful. And the kids were learning how to build a PC, how to program. And then we have volunteers who will go out to schools and offer programming lessons.

With STEM the industry and government have to come together and start pushing that agenda really hard.

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