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5 Minutes With… Stephen Whatling tackles the skills shortage in digital infrastructure

In the latest instalment of our IT security industry executive interview series, we spoke to Stephen Whatling (pictured), Chairman at BCS Integrated Solutions, about the skills shortage within digital infrastructure and how we can attract new talent to the sector…

Will the widely reported ‘skills shortage’ in the sector start to cause real problems? 

The continuing fight for a limited talent pool is set to get worse and there are real concerns that it will impact the sector’s ability to deliver the increasing demand driven in part by changes accelerated by the pandemic. 

The skills shortage in the industry has been an issue for over a decade with the financial crash in 2008 leading to a lost generation of technical engineers which has been slow to recover. Recently there have been some promising industry initiatives but many have been put on hold due to the pandemic. Ongoing uncertainty around this year’s A level results, challenges for first year University students and a decision by many organisations that taking on graduate trainees and/or apprentices is just not practical has effectively put us back to square one, (although at BCS we have forged ahead with our graduate and apprenticeship programme) and these decisions may be ones that many come to regret in the future. 

How can the sector increase talent coming into the industry?

Firstly, we need to act as ambassadors for the industry and what it offers. We need to get out there and tell young people what a great career we can offer and the opportunities available. Primary and secondary school visits are very important for us to explain in simple terminology the crucial infrastructure that supports the digital world. that we work in. Careers fairs are also vital. When discussing with school leavers IT and Technology, their focus was often on software, gaming and applications and they hadn’t considered data centre construction as an employment option, but without us, none of the technology to do that works.  

We need to communicate to all the talent out there about the importance of the invisible and vital infrastructure.

What are you looking for in an apprentice/graduate?

Curiosity and tenacity. The next generation are great at coming up with new ideas and solutions, and we need this more than ever. We want apprentices to ask why we’re doing things a certain way and to never be afraid to challenge the status quo. Resilience is also key. When you fall down early on in your career, it’s vital to get back up and go again. 

What are the challenges for you as an employer taking on apprentices and graduates?

Time is the biggest factor as we need to commit to ensuring that we are able to help support and develop the next generation. This is hard in challenging times and in an industry where things are changing at a rapid pace and we need to respond to those changes.  

The personality of an individual is always something that plays a big part, because we need them to fit our culture and work within a team. A sense of humour is also something we rate very highly – you need one in our sector!  

If you could give one piece of advice?

Embrace it, get out there and start a great career, never be scared to ask a question, challenge the norm and the establishment. Be prepared to question the experts and know that if you’re asking a question, there will be others in the room who want to know the answer too. Get stuck in, have fun and express yourself. 


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