How to break down barriers to tech careers

From second career opportunities to apprenticeships, how can alternative paths into tech help diversify and grow the talent pool?

The UK tech industry might be one of the country’s fastest-growing sectors, but it is facing an unprecedented talent shortage, with a looming gap between the jobs of the future and the skills we have. Research from Salesforce suggests that 90% of the entire UK workforce will need to retrain by 2030.

A 2021 government report into digital skills gaps found talent shortages across all technology areas, with significant shortages in cybersecurity, big data and analysis and data architecture. In fact, two-thirds of digital leaders in the UK said they were unable to sustain growth and meet current demands due to the lack of available talent, with a lack of skilled developers third only to HGV drivers and nurses as the most in-demand role in the UK.

Part of the problem is the lack of young people taking qualifications in digital subjects, with the Learning & Work Institute claiming that the number of teenagers taking IT subjects at GCSE level has dropped 40% since 2015.

Alternative routes to tech

However, there are many alternative routes into careers in tech beyond the traditional educational route through university. One solution is on-the-job training, with the growing popularity of apprenticeships encouraging school leavers, graduates and older employees alike to move into the technology industry. Amazon recently created 1,500 apprenticeships across the UK, with Virgin Media O2 also among those growing their apprenticeship intake. 

Another route is to target career changers, who are increasingly looking for new roles in the wake of the great resignation – but can also come from some surprising places.

Martin Corry has worked for Salesforce for more than seven years and is currently regional vice president of real estate and construction. However, he’s probably better known for his previous career as a rugby player for Leicester Tigers, the British and Irish Lions and England, with whom he won the World Cup in 2003 and captained in 2007. So what motivated him to move into tech, and how did he adapt from the pressurised world of professional sport?

“At first when I finished rugby, I did a number of different business development types of roles, but there was no ownership to them,” he says. “For a year this was great, but after that, I felt I lacked purpose. In sport, you spend your whole time being under pressure in a results-driven environment and suddenly, that’s gone.” 

Corry took a role with Salesforce which was the right blend of performance-driven culture and learning to enable him to succeed. “As I transitioned, I faced a new set of challenges. It became clear that I needed a mindset shift – from cultivating a new support network, learning new digital skills and being strong enough to ask for help in the first place,” says Corry. “Businesses and athletes can learn a lot from each other when it comes to upskilling and resilience in the face of adversity. I found that with rugby, I could draw on skills I’d honed over years to transition to a successful career at Salesforce.” 

Businesses and athletes can learn a lot from each other when it comes to upskilling and resilience in the face of adversity

Corry also found the support he needed to develop his understanding of the industry and the technology used, admitting that he knew little about the sector before entering. “I didn’t have the innate knowledge of this new challenge I had with rugby. So I looked back to the beginning of my rugby career and re-captured that ‘day one’ mindset: be a sponge for knowledge, scrap for everything, look with fresh eyes. There was a key moment where I pressed reset and things started to improve.”

“I never thought the sector would be for me. I didn’t come from a technology background, so the technical barrier was huge. What helped was the onboarding and ongoing training on how our software works. Once I started to immerse myself within Salesforce technology, it slowly started to make sense. That’s now one of my go-to sayings: If I can learn how to use Salesforce, coming from a nothing base, then anyone can,” he smiles.

Attitude over aptitude 

Now, Corry encourages other people that find the technology sector daunting to try and break into it. In his role as a team leader, he prioritises attitude over a technical background when hiring, believing that the onboarding process provides the skills needed to be competent enough to start a role. Online learning platforms, such as Salesforce’s Trailhead, can be great tools for upskilling and reskilling, opening up pathways to new career opportunities. Trailhead can take participants from a low level of technical knowledge to a job in the Salesforce ecosystem in as little as six months.

As part of Salesforce’s Equality Groups initiative, employee-led organisations at Salesforce that support underrepresented communities in a commitment to finding untapped talent and creating a diverse workplace, Corry also set up AthleteForce. AthleteForce helps retiring athletes move into roles in the technology industry. As with so many people considering changing careers, providing a new purpose and direction is key.

“A lot of athletes are so successful because they’re driven and have a purpose. As soon as you retire, you lose your purpose and it can be dangerous. The technology industry can give you another purpose. It might not be playing in front of 90,000 people, but it’s a purpose where you can build something and achieve new things,” he says.

Finding untapped talent from all of society, such as athletes with transferable skills, is an important step towards closing the digital divide. Salesforce, and its network of partners and customers, will create 271,700 new jobs alone by 2026. 

Corry’s experience is a case in point that with the right opportunities and support, tech careers can be accessible to ambitious individuals from a range of backgrounds, not just those who set out on a technology path from the beginning. By breaking down barriers to tech careers, organisations are opening themselves up to an exciting, diverse and untapped talent pool.

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