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With an increasing number of software developers working remotely, and a talent-poor market in the UK – are jobs at risk from a global workforce?

  • Publish Date: Posted 6 months ago
  • Author: Jonathan Moran

​Global pandemics and political trade agreements can have enormous power to disrupt job markets, just in case anyone was still unsure. But when remote working is normalised in a market that is already suffering a skill shortage, what’s stopping globalisation from being the next big driver to mould the tech sector, and is this something we should accept as inevitable?

A recent study showed that over 70% of tech employers expect they will experience a skills shortage in the year ahead and a 2019-20 report showed that over 45% of web development and design vacancies were deemed skill-shortage vacancies, along with 48% of programming and software development vacancies. In markets like these, developers are often hired without suitable qualifications or experience with a long-term view to invest and grow their skills, or positions are left unfilled, holding businesses back with no alternative quick fixes. One of the regions most affected by shortages of programmers and software developers is the North West.

Many barriers associated with remote working such as hiring, on-boarding and management, are no longer seen as such a hurdle. It’s fair to say that hirers suffering skill shortages in development, would be hard-pressed to turn away suitably-skilled applicants applying from overseas. As you might expect, hiring or outsourcing to firms who are oceans away is not always entirely straightforward, even when remote-working is normalised. But let’s not forget we’re talking about the tech industry, renowned for problem-solvers and innovators who are unlikely to be easily put off by a bump in the road.

Demand and supply salary elasticity

With significant government investment and an industry more robust than most during this pandemic, the tech sector is most definitely attractive. Drawing in prospecting students and encouraging retraining is positive for tackling the skills gap, but let’s not forget that employees already working in the tech sector do benefit from the skill-shortage financially. With their skills in demand and a range of opportunities to choose between, it is possible to charge a premium when interviewing for new opportunities knowing that their skillset is invaluable. Alternatively, with lower competition, job seekers can seek opportunities with high-growth potential. Still, a remote workforce could harm salaries in the sector once demand decreases. If the solution becomes to outsource to skilled tech workforces globally, employment gaps and wages will likely be affected. What does this mean for candidates? Now is the best time to be seeking opportunities that remunerate you fairly, and offer the best growth potential, ahead of a global workforce solution.

It’s fair to expect these sorts of changes to come into effect at some point, but is there an immediate rush to move away from in-house hiring and face-to-face city working to tackle the challenges of remote working? Certainly not. In Manchester, we are yet to see businesses taking this approach, and in-house hiring with the remote-working aspect is by far the norm.

Permits to work

At a freelance level, we admit our knowledge concerning the limitations of international working and visa requirements is finite. For the latest and most accurate information, we would always direct you towards GOV.UK to do your research.

We notice several countries are now offering remote-working visas to invite freelancers and remote-workers to work in their countries without the need to make income tax contributions, taking the limits of work-life balance to a new level.

International trade

For teams of developers and programmers, international trade agreements between many first-world countries are uncertain at the moment amid Brexit and the pandemic, and typically times of uncertainty breed indecisiveness. Uncertain international markets are something we expect will halt the diffusion of a global tech workforce in the short-term.

Time zones and language impacting communication and effective management

Outsourcing tech development globally creates new challenges surrounding time difference and communication. For tech firms who currently operate across borders, adjustment won’t be such a big task. However, for tech firms solely based in the UK, the need to manage and communicate between set timeframes and countries is an enormous barrier that is currently avoidable by hiring developers to work in-house on UK time. Factoring in the issues arising due to interpretation, translation and communication when operating across borders is critical to success. Small things such as colloquialisms, working hours, tone of voice and subtle individual nuances in accent, speech and articulation could all contribute to strains on project communication, outcomes and deadlines. Tackling this head-on will ensure that lack of face-to-face contact does not cause a hindrance to the briefing and management of outsourced projects.

Finding the skills

Giants in the tech industry primarily benefit from a global workforce when it comes to their manufacturing for lower labour and operation costs, so why not their development – or is this what to expect in years to come?

If tech businesses look to develop remote workforces, where can these suitably-skilled individuals be found?

The principles which inform, drive and mould the tech sector are often born out of the technology hub: Silicon Valley. As the Mecca of the tech sector, individuals and rival tech hubs in this industry often have their heads pointing towards California USA to be aware of the latest developments in the industry. The latest cutting-edge skills will originate from here, and other tech hubs such as Toronto, Shenzen, Seattle, Tel Aviv and Melbourne will often follow-suit. Individuals from this industry will often have sights set on these hubs if only to mirror their way of thinking and standards expected of the tech industry.

Is your business able to support, incentivise, and inspire individuals in the same way as larger tech giants and leading companies? Or at least to compete with the other tech hubs in the UK such as Cambridge, Birmingham and Reading. Or is there less-known but more fruitful hubs of suitably-skilled individuals that the UK need to draw on?

Government funding into STEM

Rishi Sunak’s highly controversial advice to the arts sector to retrain along with the government’s Cyber First campaign which has recently come under scrutiny for suggesting a ballerina’s next role could be in the tech sector are key talking points at the moment.

What this shows us, is that the government recognises tech as a growth sector and is in favour of developing cyber skills on our soil, which gives hope to combating the UK skill shortage in years to come.

Despite the ongoing criticism directed towards the Cyber First campaign as a whole, there is a positive underlying message which is less spoken about: the gender of the subject. Gender imbalance is a massive contributor to the skill shortage in this sector, and this message positively challenges the gender stereotypes associated with STEM opportunities. Tackling equality in developers bodes well for achieving more home-grown skills to tackle the skill shortage. Additionally, £2.5 billion of government funding is being made available to the National Skills Fund as part of their retrain and reskill agenda for a post-COVID world, which includes free ‘Lifetime Skills Guarantee’ training.

Accepting disruption paves the way for more disruption: technology and globalisation

Disruption paves the way for innovation and vice-versa. Although it is in some cases perceived as a negative, companies should accept that market disruption as a result of forces such as the internet and globalisation are too powerful to be resisted.

Market disruption is only harmful if you fail to adapt. Regardless, businesses typically do their best to resist market change, for fear that accepting change requires adaptation and breaking away from the familiar makes them vulnerable. Implementing change in response to disruption does require investment and risk. Therefore, businesses usually let their competitors and market leaders make the jump first before looking to implement change, and then they play catch up, which is fine as long as you aren’t the last.

And then, when disruption is accepted, and you try new methods, such as remote-only new staff, the: “If they can do it, why can’t I?” rhetoric becomes rife. If your new hire can do their job from the Bahamas, Singapore or Australia and check-in via Zoom, why can’t the rest of the team be based anywhere too? Fear of the breakdown of traditional face-to-face, office and city-centre working as we know it is what is halting adaption in the mainstream, yet Twitter, Google and Spotify are moving to work-from-home and work-from-anywhere models ahead of the curve. Hence, it is essential to listen and observe what is going on at the top and how that might affect smaller business in the future as the changes trickle down.

It pays to be aware now of what is coming when planning strategy for the next 2-5 years. In the meantime, considerable efforts to narrow the skills gap and balance gender inequality by training more people in the UK make the need for a global workforce solution far from the only option.

Keep an eye on the tech giants and see what happens next. Ultimately be ready to adapt when the time comes. At Better Placed, technology has affected the way people job search, and we’ve had to adjust our approach to recruitment accordingly. We will be ready to do the same again to ensure we can always add value to your hiring process.