The UK’s entry into a third lockdown at the beginning of January was a blow to many sectors and businesses, even if public health demanded it and it was perhaps inevitable. But with the mass vaccination programme rolling out apace, what are the prospects for a return to normality in business and employment activity, in particular the tech sector?
The three lockdowns have all been and felt quite different:
- Lockdown 1.0 — there was a fear factor of entering the unknown and then the welcome realisation that we could still do our office job from home.
- Lockdown 2.0 — largely passed us all by as optimism returned with the news that vaccine trials were successful, and they would receive medical approval. There was indeed light at the end of the tunnel.
- Lockdown 3.0 — came as a disappointment to businesses and families (especially those with school-aged children!). Now it has been extended into March, although there is still a sense of optimism, we’re left with a feeling that things may take longer to settle down than we first thought as the new variant has kicked in.
Despite the impressive scale of the UK’s vaccination programme, the government has said that it won’t be until the autumn that all adults have been offered a first jab – meaning that we are unlikely to see anything like normality until the end of the year. Remote working is with us to stay for the foreseeable future – and any return to offices when it happens will be gradual and cautious. We are all likely to work remotely at least some of the time on a more or less permanent basis.
On a sector level, the impacts are highly polarised:
The tech sector can be expected to continue to boom given the dependence on collaboration platforms and cloud based services, as well as an enhanced need for cyber security products and services in the remote working era. Microsoft recently reported bumper quarterly results with profits up 33% and revenues climbing 17% while Apple also recorded record revenues, surpassing $100bn in a quarter for the first time and the other tech giants can be expected to be faring similarly well. All along the tech chain down to small consultancies and niche service providers, demand will continue to rocket – something that the new lockdown will perpetuate.
The Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey found the majority of the UK’s tech leaders were planning to maintain or increase their teams this year — this will not have changed. In fact, recent ONS data showed that the UK’s tech sector has continued to recruit strongly – creating a further 90,000 jobs in the third quarter to September 2020. This is hugely positive news set against the backdrop of an estimated 1.72 million people now out of work.
Outside of the hardest hit industry sectors (hospitality, leisure and travel) most other sectors are at different stages of their response to the pandemic. In the CIO Survey, we described the effects on a sliding scale of four categories, from Surge (e.g., tech, healthcare), through Modified Business As Usual, Transform To Re-Emerge, down to Hard Reset (hospitality, travel etc).
So what of tech recruitment?
Despite unemployment rising, the ONS figures show the jobs market is stabilising — as employment declined by 88,000 in the quarter, a considerably smaller number than the 104,000 that had been forecast by economists.
At Harvey Nash, we can testify to the ongoing resilience of tech recruitment. The new lockdown did not create a corresponding shut down in recruiting. Businesses have come through the initial business continuity and ‘survival’ planning of the early stages of the pandemic — the focus now is on business transformation to adjust to the new normal, with organisations evolving their operating models in response. They are therefore continuing with these crucial projects and pushing ahead with the work that needs to be done.
Demand for IT contractors is especially high. Indeed, we have probably never had as many contractor mandates coming through. Permanent recruitment is lower – and remains below pre-pandemic levels – but nevertheless we are seeing a good flow of positions.
The strongest areas of demand are for people with cyber skills and data specialists (data analysts and data scientists). Those with AI capabilities are also highly sought after, while the market for developers is booming too. In terms of sectors, tech businesses themselves are recruiting strongly, along with financial services and areas in the front line such as the public sector and healthcare/pharma. There is a spike in requirements from logistics businesses too as they look to manage the surge in online shopping and deliveries.
On the candidate side, we are seeing a renewed interest in looking for a move. Just as businesses have adjusted to the new normal, so have individuals. The reluctance to think about making a change when the pandemic began has been replaced by an acceptance that this is how things are – and you can’t put your career on hold forever! Boosted by vaccine optimism, as well as the usual New Year/new job resolutions, individuals are now much more actively contemplating their next move.
There are signs also that the working from home revolution is encouraging candidates to consider positions across a wider geographic area, opening up more opportunities. The forthcoming Harvey Nash Tech Survey found that over three quarters of tech workers (79%) want to continue to work from home 3-5 days a week, and a third are prepared to consider roles based further away than previously. ‘Work location and remote working opportunities’ has become the second most important factor when considering a role – second only to remuneration. These factors are also potentially positive for boosting diversity in tech, especially gender. Many of our clients specifically ask for gender-balanced shortlists — it’s high on their agenda.
We are optimistic that tech recruitment activity will remain strong throughout 2021, providing opportunities for talented individuals and stimulating local economies.
There are significant challenges ahead for many sectors in the wake of the pandemic, and as a result rising redundancies may sadly be inevitable. But tech will remain a bright spot in the gloom and also light the way for many organisations to reinvent themselves in the more digital economy that Covid-19 is creating.