UK companies suffer from cloud skills gender gap, Microsoft research shows

Companies in the UK are suffering from a cloud skills gender gap that could harm their business as firms transform to meet the demands of a digital world, research by Microsoft has found.

The survey of technical and IT leaders – entitled Microsoft Cloud Skills Report: Closing the Cloud Skills Chasm – found that, on average, the gender mix among their teams was 80% male and 20% female. However, 35% said they didn’t plan to change this imbalance.

A fifth of firms that employ between 250 and 999 staff have no female IT workers.

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The worryingly low numbers of women in IT roles sat alongside figures from the same survey that revealed a high number of technical leaders believed cloud computing skills would be critical to their organisation. However, most said people with these skills were not easy to find.

“According to the Hays Global Skills Index, last year marked the fifth consecutive year of a rising UK skills shortage, particularly in the technical engineering and specialist technology roles into which cloud skills fall,” Cindy Rose, Microsoft UK Chief Executive, told the Microsoft Tech Summit in Birmingham on Monday.

“Central to any overhaul has to be a focus on women. Missing out on diverse and female talent is certainly a well-known problem facing our industry but it is only exacerbated when we are already facing a labour shortage – and one that may be about to get worse if Brexit brings limits to immigration.

“Companies need to develop plans to bring more women into the IT workforce so they can take advantage of these benefits. It is important for the future IT skill base of the country that this becomes the new normal. The need for change is clear.”

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The Microsoft Cloud Skills Report comes just months after the technology company released separate research that revealed nearly half of UK bosses believe they must embrace digital transformation – including cloud computing and machine learning – or see their company fail within the next five years.

In the latest report, 83% of the 250 technical and IT leaders Microsoft surveyed said cloud skills were important or critical to their organisation. Almost a third had actively sought to recruit team members with these skills in the past year, but 38% admitted had found it difficult or very difficult to do so. This risked leaving businesses with serious competitive issues, which could have a knock-on effect on the economy.

In order to counter the lack of adequate external candidates for IT positions, companies are increasingly training existing staff (60% of those surveyed said they had done this), but nearly half hope to recruit new people and believe it will be easier to do so in the future. This contradicts a range of evidence that the skills gap is growing.

“The degree to which respondents believe the challenge of finding appropriately-skilled staff will get easier in the next couple of years is surprising,” Microsoft’s report stated. “A wealth of data from various sources indicates that the gap between the number of people with cloud skills and the number of roles available has continued to widen in recent years and there is every indication that this is set to continue. Organisations that are postponing transformation programmes in anticipation that there will be a flood of newly-skilled individuals entering the workforce in the next couple of years would do well to think again.”

Microsoft is playing its part in addressing the gap by launching a new digital skills programme. The company has promised to train 30,000 public servants for free, while everyone in the UK will have access to free, online digital literacy training that will prepare them for a world in which companies, schools and governments embrace technology to transform how they work. Finally, Microsoft is also launching a Cloud Skills Initiative, which will train 500,000 people in the UK in advanced cloud technology skills by 2020.

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While businesses search for potential employees with the right cloud skills, they are turning to external partners to fill the gap. The majority (64%) said it was important for those third-parties to have cloud certifications, while a further 61% revealed it was key that employees of those partners were certified. Businesses expected to pay an average of £100 more for these services.

As a result, while the report reveals challenges for companies across the UK, it is a positive view into the sector for those interested in pursuing a cloud career or for businesses that already offer cloud consultancy to other organisations. With demand outstripping supply, those equipped with Cloud skills can be confident that their talents will be required for the foreseeable future.