The tech sector will save us all. 

I said it a few months ago, and I’ll say it again, ‘The tech sector won’t be affected by the recession.’ And if recent figures are anything to go by, the tech sector is actually powering the economy to such an extent that we’re not even in a recession. Economists have been all doom and gloom in recent months, predicting contractions in GDP, but the economy grew in November, driven largely by ‘information and communications,’ according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). ‘Telecommunications and computer programming … were the largest contributors.

WE’RE NOT WORRIED ABOUT THE SO-CALLED RECESSION 

Hamilton Barnes is the leading recruiter to the network engineering space and I can honestly say that ever since fears of a recession surfaced in Q3 last year, we haven’t been worried. Because the market is as buoyant as ever. I recently led training for some of our junior consultants on how to win clients and some of these guys had never done business development before. Over a few days, which I usually strike off against sales targets because the consultants are practicing building relationships, they picked up almost 100 vacancies from prospective clients. That’s a first in eight years of running the company. 

We have around 700 companies on our books, absolutely none of whom have contacted me to say they’re slowing their recruitment or putting it on hold. Rather they’re hiring tech specialists at a rate of knots, with us regularly filling roles in a matter of days. Network automation engineers, network security architects and cybersecurity specialists are some of the roles that are particularly in demand, with cyber especially seeing an unprecedented surge since COVID-19. 

The nature of remote working that was forced upon us during the pandemic – using personal devices and accessing sensitive data via unsecure Wi-Fi networks – weakened businesses’ defences and cybercriminals were able to mount all-out assaults on unprotected working environments. Cybercrime rose by 70% in 2021 – with malware, phishing, ransomware, denial of service attacks, and SQL injections all rising – and this has fuelled the need for talent to prevent or mitigate these threats. 

WE’RE STILL PLAYING COVID CATCH-UP 

Unfortunately, cyber has traditionally been a bit of an afterthought, with businesses not seeing it as crucial and SMEs traditionally struggling to get cyber funding until they were the victim of an attack. After the horse has bolted, as they say. 

However, with the average cost of an attack also soaring into the tens of thousands of pounds, the need to invest in cybersecurity talent is the most significant learning from 2022. But it’s almost a case of ‘too little too late’, with organisations now playing COVID catch-up and a global skills shortage of 3.5 million cyber professionals in the current market. 

Ironically, the result is that the sector is more competitive than ever, not less. The most experienced talent is in such high demand that salaries are soaring to draw them in. Hamilton Barnes is seeing cyber positions that would have paid £80k per annum this time last year being advertised at well over £100k, 

with some roles on offer at almost 50% higher than previously. For organisations that don’t have that kind of capital – particularly SMEs – the only solution is to look further down the metaphorical cyber career ladder, namely at graduates. Computer science grads are commanding salaries of £50k+, when their only experience extends to studying cyber in a textbook. But what choice do these businesses have? After all, these grads can at least learn on the job and no experience is better than no staff. 

MATHS MISSES THE MARK 

For this to continue, though, we need to be filling the pipeline. In his New Year’s speech, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak vowed to make ‘this country a beacon of science, technology, and enterprise’. Yet he’s also insisting that all students study maths to the age of 18, which is, quite frankly, a load of hot air. Maths A levels might help future generations feel confident with their finances, but most cyber specialists would struggle to calculate the area of a triangle. Similarly, Rishi’s £20 billion pledge to fund R&D will go some way to putting ‘innovation at the heart of everything we do,’ but it also misses the mark. 

Instead, there needs to be greater investment in awareness of the sector to attract the next generation of talent, particularly amongst school children. There would be a lot more benefit in encouraging computer science studies, at least up to GSCE, or in children learning to code and taking on cyber vocational pursuits or classes. From here, children would be able to make their own decisions about pursuing careers that will place them at the heart of pioneering technologies. Take ‘telecommunications’ as a contributor to economic growth; it’s not hard to see why. Connectivity is advancing faster than ever before and the people who can plan construction projects are at the forefront of keeping us all online. That’s why there’s huge demand for fibre planners and GIS (Geographic information systems) technicians. 

As things stand, we’re teetering on the edge. The scope is there for us to tap into an emerging talent pool, if only that talent pool is aware of the contributions it can make to advancements in technology. Don’t get me started on how the sector could benefit from attracting a more diverse workforce – for example, women and those with neurodiversity, because of their keen attention to detail – because that’s probably a different article entirely.

George Barnes

Co-founder at Hamilton Barnes.

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