A pivotal development by the onset of the pandemic has been the dire need for all things digital. It has pushed industries to use technology to get in line with the new demands of the market by bringing about rapid digital transformation within their organisations, from how they manage their day-to-day operations to the way they sell their products.
To bring about this paradigm digital shift is the requirement for tech talent, a resource that was scarce to begin with but for which demand has skyrocketed in the last several months. Globally, data and software development roles are leading the way as some of the most in-demand jobs, making IT one of the few industries to increase hiring since the start of the pandemic, as per a COVID-19 impact analysis report released by specialist recruiter Randstad.
Yet, a scarce pool of tech talent leaves even less resources to go around – and with increasing demand, at far higher costs. The ever-increasing cost of tech talent is proving to be unsustainable and industries globally have been struggling in their quest for digital transformation as a result.
Does WFH hold the answers?
As per the Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka’s (ICTA) National IT-BPM Workforce Survey 2019, the gender composition of Sri Lanka’s IT workforce has improved from 29% female participation in 2013 to 34% in 2018. While this is a commendable achievement, in parallel, the demand for IT graduates has increased steeply from 6,246 in 2014 to 21,216 in 2019. With the onset of the pandemic, demand has increased further, with a possible slowdown of graduates due to interruptions to local universities and higher education institutes’ operations.
Does another pandemic development hold the answers? The need to social distance has brought about the shift to ‘work from home’. Industries and institutions that considered this an impossibility have been forced to make it work, for at least part of their workforce.
With this comes the unique opportunity of addressing the shortage of tech talent – by increasing the participation of women in the workforce. In Sri Lanka’s IT industry alone, female participation hovers around the 25% mark although around 50% of IT graduates from local universities are women, many of whom emerge top of their class.
A key reason for the drop-off of women once they enter the workforce has been the inability to maintain a work-life balance. Often, especially in cultures such as ours, women are expected to be the foundation upon which family life is built. Pressures of the workplace coupled with the responsibilities of home create a situation near impossible to juggle, especially if no external help is available.
Work from home (WFH) holds benefits for both employees and employers. Employees benefit from higher flexibility, more time to spend with and care for dependents, zero commute time and it helps all employees, not just women, achieve a better work-life balance. A case in point are countries such as Denmark and Sweden. These countries have the highest percentages of females working from home – and boast the highest maternal employment rates. Overall, the WFH development this year has brought about closer-knit families and communities. The pandemic created the space for companies test out the feasibility of WFH and the results are in. A survey conducted by research company Gartner with 317 CFOs and business finance leaders found that 74% plan to move their previously on-site workforce to permanently remote positions post-COVID-19. Global giants have led the way with companies such as Google, Twitter, Microsoft and Dropbox announcing they will allow employees to WFH for extended periods.
Can we re-ignite the other half of the workforce?
Drawing women back into the workforce holds far more benefits than just increasing capacity. It brings balance, fresh ideas and diversity into workplaces. It uplifts economies and individual standards of living to have two, instead of one, person in the family with steady employment.
Speaking from my role at the technology company I represent, it is harder than ever to source good talent. 99x has grown during the pandemic and recruitment of good tech talent remains challenging, even more so than at the start of the year. The workforce has grown by nearly 70 people this year and despite retaining our employees, as seen by an attrition rate at single digit figures, we still find ourselves needing more tech talent than ever.
Rapid solution to shortage of tech talent
Engaging this untapped half of the workforce, who are educated and industry-ready, could be a rapid solution to the shortage of tech talent. Work from home comes with its own challenges and it is up to employers to rise to the challenge and create flexible work environments conducive to supporting a more diverse, inclusive workforce in the new normal.
Human resource professionals too play a key role here, in understanding the changing IT employment landscape and driving necessary organisational change to build a broad pool of talent, helping create more resilient corporates. COVID-19 has shown that flexible work environments are not just feasible but when properly implemented, can bring about a myriad of benefits for employers and employees alike. The question that arises is if employers are willing to accept this as the answer to accessing great talent, by increasing the participation and engagement of the female labor force, and to take the necessary steps within their organisations to make it a reality.
Damitha Jayasinghe is the Chief People Officer of 99x, a technology company co-creating well-engineered, innovative digital products for the Scandinavian market. He counts over 15 years of experience in shaping workforces consisting of IT professionals.