The future’s still promising for careers in tech

The future’s still promising for careers in tech

woman working on computer

Back in April, we blogged that the future is flourishing for careers in tech – the promising message of the upbeat 2020 Tech Nation Report that had recently been published.


A lot of water has passed under the bridge since: a steady stream of furloughs, businesses in trouble, rising unemployment, poor economic forecasts and, back in the news this week, Brexit uncertainties. Anyone could be forgiven for seeing the water as extremely murky and unappealing.


Which makes this the perfect time for another optimistic Tech Nation report, the recent Tech jobs and skills report 2020, which details how UK tech jobs have bounced back after lockdown, with a strong 36% increase in advertised tech vacancies between June and August. “Only the healthcare sector recruited for more jobs in this period, suggesting that tech jobs and skills continue to be a high national priority even as recession hits,” says the report summary.


The report is also optimistic about salaries, where “the most in-demand digital and tech jobs increased by up to 15% between 2017 and 2019”.


Here’s a summary of the top five key points:

  •   Advertised roles in the digital tech sector up 46% between June and August
  •   More than 90,000 digital tech vacancies a week across the UK
  •   UK tech employment up by more than 40% in two years
  •   Tech employs more than a fifth of the workforce in the UK’s biggest cities
  •   Digital tech now accounts for 9% of the UK workforce


And on salaries:

  •   Digital tech salary (median) up by 4% from 2018 to 2019 (against an inflation rate of 1.8%)
  •   Salaries for the most in-demand digital and tech jobs increased by up to 15% between 2017 and 2019
  •   The top five tech roles, in order of salary level 2019, are Java developer, software developer, front-end developer, NET developer and engineer, with the UK median salary for Java developers at £57,500
  •   London remains a salary sweet spot for digital tech workers, with the median salary across all tech roles at £55,000, and a particularly sweet for software developers (median salary £62,500) and front-end developers (median salary £60,000)
  •   London remains the most expensive city to live in but digital tech salaries are high enough that it is also the most cost effective city, holding the number one spot for cost of living vs median salary


And, by the way, software developers are among the top five of employees sought across all professions, alongside social care workers and nurses.


But what of the longer-term and future careers in tech? International think tank the World Economic Forum (WEF) has this week issued a report that grabbed headlines by forecasting that half of all work tasks will be handled by machines by 2025, with routine or manual jobs in administration and data processing most at threat. It argues that the pandemic has sped up the adoption of new technologies and warns that workers now face a double threat from “accelerating automation and the fallout from the Covid-19 recession”.


This is just the latest in a long and familiar line of warnings about automation leading to the disappearance of well-established work roles, and one of a growing number beginning to explore the double whammy of automation and pandemic. So how does that affect the future of tech?


Behind the headlines, things are not quite as dire. To begin with, the WEF finds that already around a third of all work tasks are handled by machines, so the shift to half is not from a standing start.


And its warnings are not about loss of tech roles. Data processing, yes. Routine, repetitive tasks, yes. But it also says that there will be a “surge” in demand for workers to fill new roles in areas such as big data, engineering and cloud computing.


Meanwhile, in its report Who is at risk? Work and automation, in the time of Covid-19, the RSA (the respected royal society for arts, manufactures and commerce) has been taking an in-depth look at relationship between the pandemic’s threatened, short-term “tsunami of job losses” and possible signs of rapidly accelerating technological change.


There is no doubt, says the RSA, that unemployment is set to rise considerably and the pandemic is clearly accelerating automation. The report quotes Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella suggesting back in April that “we’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months”.


The RSA report is based around a ‘risk register’ that combines Covid risks and automation risks for each UK industry, to arrive at charts showing which run the highest and lowest risks overall.


The tech sector is seen (logically enough) as a source of new roles – implying employment growth – as technology plays an increasing role in other industries, including a general shift to online and digital services. Indeed, says the report, in the growth of online retails sales “the last five months is roughly comparable to the previous five years of digital transformation”.


So the good news for future tech employment is how close the sector is to the bottom of the risk register. The creative arts and entertainment industries within the sector are at high risk of direct Covid effects (and had high levels of furlough during lockdown) but low risk of automation. The same is true of what’s listed as “science and technology”. But the rest, which we may summarise as telecoms, information services and computing*, are listed as “resilient industries”, at least risk.


The double whammy of Covid and accelerating technological change may be a threat to more vulnerable industries but not to the tech industry itself. It is, if anything, the reverse, offering growth and promise. Tech remains one of the most promising career paths in both the short and long terms.


Industries in the report are listed according to the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) codes (2 digit version) where there is no such thing as a “tech sector” nor “digital”, so the report has to be read in that context.