Tech workers are preparing to quit. Persuading them to stay won't be easy

Less than a third of UK tech workers plan to stick with their current employer for the next 12 months, coming at a time when organizations are already struggling to find digital skills.
Written by Owen Hughes, Senior Editor

New research suggests that less than a third of tech workers plan to stay on in their current role – leaving organizations facing an exodus of digital skills as they emerge from the pandemic.

A survey of 1,000 technology workers and 500 IT decision makers by careers platform CWJobs found that just 29% of employees intend on staying with their current employer for the next 12 months, with the majority planning to make career or lifestyle changes as life opens up again.

CWJob's research found that 14% of tech workers would look for a new role at a different company, with others planning to establish their own business (11%), go part-time (11%), change locations (11%) or become a contractor (10%). Eight percent are contemplating leaving tech altogether.

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CWJob's study offers yet another indicator that employers face a skills shortage in the coming months as employees make post-pandemic career moves.

Tech departments were called upon to keep organizations moving forward as COVID-19 upended traditional businesses models and brought about the need for radical new ways of working.

Developers and IT professionals bore the brunt of this, tasked with maintaining business continuity, introducing new digital services and navigating the industry-wide adoption of remote work in the space of a few short weeks.

But as lockdown restrictions ease and organizations draw up their plans for the coming months, employers face what has been dubbed 'The Great Resignation' as employees – who have spent the past 16 months reflecting on their personal and professional priorities – prepare to move on.

Research by HR software company Personio in May found that 38% of workers in the UK & Ireland plan to change roles in the next 6-12 months, rising to 58% amongst those in IT and computing roles. A survey of more than 30,000 global workers by Microsoft indicated that as many as 41% are considering leaving their job within a year.

The UK's exit from the European Union makes things even more precarious for UK employers, squeezing the talent pipeline by making it more difficult for hiring managers to recruit skilled tech workers from overseas.

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Almost half of UK businesses (46%) told CWJobs they struggle to hire the technical skills they need, with 61% saying Brexit has made this even more difficult. As a result, over half (54%) said the skills gap has placed greater pressure on their technology workforce.

Tom Lovell, managing director of tech skills at trade association techUK, said tech workers remained "crucial in building back the economy" as businesses emerged from the pandemic and demand for digital skills grew.

"The UK has always had a historically strong technology industry, which has only been amplified by the pandemic. However, with mass movement expected, now is the time for businesses to focus on attracting and retaining top tech talent across the country," said Lovell.

A tough year for tech teams

IT and technology workers have faced vastly increased workloads over the past 16 months, with burnout becoming a major issue amongst those tasked with propping up IT infrastructure and delivering new digital services.

CWJob's research found that, while tech workers felt their efforts over previous months had been appreciated, they believed this gratitude would fade in the light of day as the pandemic subsided.

Three-fifths of tech workers surveyed (62%) said they had felt more valued during the pandemic, while 52% said they experienced a boost to their job satisfaction over the past year. Yet four in 10 (38%) worried their role would be less valued as business continuity became less of a priority, with the same proportion believing their job satisfaction would decrease.

Adrian Love, European recruitment director at Accenture, warned that a mass exodus of tech professionals risked putting digitization projects on ice at a time when investment in technology was accelerating. "After the last 18 months, employers are certainly aware of how crucial their tech workers are and are under no illusions when it comes to the importance of retaining tech talent," Love told ZDNet.

"Tech skills across the board, but particularly in cloud, security, cyber, data and AI will continue to be highly sought after beyond the pandemic."

Better pay and more flexible working arrangements could prove key to attracting and retaining skilled workers.

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Nearly two-thirds (63%) of tech workers surveyed by CWJobs said they wanted flexible working from their role, while 31% said they wanted a pay rise within the next 12 months. The same proportion said they wanted their organization to offer more mental health support.

To avoid losing tech talent, companies must offer salaries and benefits packages that reflect the value they bring, said Dominic Harvey, director at CWJobs. "The pandemic has transformed the tech department's reputation, which is now seen as a fundamental driver of business success, and is valued by the board more than ever."

At the same time, businesses risk losing prized tech workers, IT leaders face a number of hiring challenges when attempting to recruit new staff.

Just over half (51%) of companies surveyed felt the competition for tech talent from other companies was too strong, while 46% reported difficulties in finding the specialist skills required for their teams.

Internal capacity is also a problem for many, the study found: 46% of the IT leaders surveyed by CWJobs said HR teams lacked the tech knowledge required to make the right hires, while 43% said they struggled to recruit new talent at the pace required.

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Love said there was no "silver bullet solution" to the impending skills shortage, but noted that employees were more likely to engage with organizations that demonstrated a meaningful purpose, provided clear career progression, and offered an inclusive employee experience.

Love also suggested that employers would need to re-think their approach to hiring to ensure they made the right decisions and maximized their potential to attract skilled technology workers. "All of this cannot just come from the recruitment teams or HR; it has to be a business-wide strategy," he told ZDNet.

"Businesses must work together with their hiring teams, committing to a solid plan, leaning into the end-to-end process and together thinking about how to attract, engage, assess and onboard broader pools of potential talent than ever before."

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