If the COVID-19 pandemic has had a positive impact on anything, it’s tech jobs. According to the August Tech Jobs Report by Comptia, tech sector employment has climbed each and every month in 2021. And data from Ineed Hiring Lab found that tech hubs held on to most of their technology jobs during the pandemic, even while losing employment in many other sectors. The unemployment rate for tech occupations hovered at 1.5% in July, dipping down toward a historic low. While the pandemic has not been declared over, it has already brought changes for those working in the field that are likely to persist.
So what’s changed so far? And what’s in store for the coming months and through 2022? Perhaps most importantly, what can people working in tech do to prepare?
We reached out to experts and sources from across the spectrum to get some insight.
Demand for Tech Professionals Will Continue to Increase
For people working in tech, whether for a tech company or in another industry altogether, the pandemic was more about meeting demand than staying afloat. As remote work and lockdowns put pressure on more companies to digitize, automate and get online, that meant greater demand for developers, cloud services, cybersecurity and AI solutions, among other things.
“As businesses not traditionally known as tech-forward were forced to quickly adopt new technologies in order to survive, new tech career opportunities opened up serving these industries,” said Zachary Roseman, CEO of Mosaic Group. “Think hair salons and barber shops that adopted appointment booking software, restaurants that adopted QR code menus or businesses that embraced video communications for client meetings”
Cloud use, for example, exploded. According to the Flexera 2021 State of the Cloud Report, 90% of enterprises surveyed expected cloud usage to exceed prior plans as a result of COVID-19.
“While many of these migrations were already planned, the timelines had to be compressed to keep the business going during the pandemic. This meant that many IT departments were caught unprepared and lacked the necessary skills on their teams,” said Clyde Seepersad, SVP and General Manager of Training & Certification at the Linux Foundation.
Of course, the pandemic wasn’t all about companies racing ahead, moving toward plans that previously may have been years in the making. It was also about accelerating digital transformation and finally kicking legacy technologies aside.
“Digital transformation activities, including cloud migration and interfacing with legacy technologies, will continue to be a challenge for many organizations,” Seepersad said. “With the skills gap not closing anytime soon, it will be essential for organizations to invest in their workforce, and provide them with the time and resources to reskill and upskill in order to meet the demands of a changing technology environment.”
The data shows this has been driving consistent demand for tech professionals, even through the economic declines experienced during the pandemic. It’s also expected to push more new hires in the coming year, forcing companies to compete more aggressively for talent.
“Expect to see aggressive hiring and employer brand campaigns,” said Joe Flanagan, Senior Employment Advisor at VelvetJobs. “Employees with 2-3 years of relevant experience will be wooed with salaries that senior professionals were getting before the pandemic.”
“Employees with 2-3 years of relevant experience will be wooed with salaries that senior professionals were getting before the pandemic.”
A Widening of the Tech Talent Skills Gap
Of course, demand isn’t the only thing that shifted during the pandemic. According to a piece by Travis Breaux and Jennifer Moritz in the July edition of Communications of the Association of Computing Machinery, pandemic travel embargoes, a reduction in access to educational loans, and delays in student visa processing is causing declines in enrollments and graduation rates in computer and information science departments. According to the authors, the skills gap will be especially large for highly skilled IT labor.
“For technology professionals looking to make career moves, it’s important to stay on top of the trends,” said Adam Samples, President of Staffing for Atrium. “Companies are adding to their tech stack and the teams that manage them. It’s a great time to be an expert and expand your knowledge with different facets of the industry.”
Pre-COVID, in 2019, more than half of CEOs said they were already concerned about the lack of digital talent available, according to PwC’s Talent Trends 2019. And, according to CompTIA’s 2021 Workforce and Learning Trends report, 40% of companies hired tech staff during the pandemic, with 66% stating they had plans to add more in 2021.
Existing companies won’t be the only driver of this growth, though. Some experts predict that even more new tech companies will spring up in the coming year, as developers and other professionals with more flexible schedules develop their own technologies.
“In six to 12 months we will see an increase in tech companies hit the market, while we may also see an average developer salary increase in the corporate world due to the greater talent scarcity resulting from startup run-away and lower graduation rates,” said Dan Fugardi, a tech entrepreneur and Managing Partner at VantageBP.
“In six to 12 months we will see an increase in tech companies hit the market, while we may also see an average developer salary increase in the corporate world due to the greater talent scarcity resulting from startup run-away and lower graduation rates.”
More Organizations Will Invest In Their Existing Tech Workforce
That widening skills gap presents a wider range of opportunity than just a better selection of jobs at higher salaries; employers are also likely to work to shrink the skills gap within their organizations by providing additional training opportunities for existing employees.
“As we are observing tech talent shortages, it’s important to think about how organizations can teach digital skills across their employee population as well as support IT professionals in their development,” said Weronika Niemczyk, Chief People Officer at ABBYY. “Long-term actions, such as collaborating with educational institutions and local governments in encouraging younger generations into moving to STEM faculties, are very important.”
Other likely shifts include a shift toward increasing use of low-code and no-code platforms, thus allowing business users to step into some of the lower level developer roles. This will likely also mean more skills training for non-technical staff.
Better Work-Life Balance
When lockdowns began, many publications declared the mass move to work-from-home a grand experiment of unprecedented scale. The results, overall, were positive, particularly for people working in tech jobs that can easily be performed from the comfort of home.
Whether companies maintain a work-from-home workforce, or simply move toward a more flexible office schedule, it seems clear that many jobs won’t be going back to the office in the same way. According to data from Terminal’s 2021 State of Remote Engineering Report, 60% of respondents hope to continue working remotely when the pandemic is over.
“The pandemic galvanized a major shift for today’s tech workforce. Remote work is the new norm and companies won’t be able to return to business as usual. Workers have grown accustomed to the flexibility that remote work allows, and they want to maintain it going forward,” said Clay Kellogg, CEO at Terminal.
Of course, the pandemic didn’t just change work; it also changed workers. As the post-pandemic reopening unfolds, experts are predicting the “great resignation,” when workers pack up and move on to jobs that treat them better, make them happier or are just a better fit.
“The seismic shocks from the pandemic have caused people to reprioritize life and work, and many have selected life – and the quality of life – over work. Simply put, we need to fit work into life, versus fitting life into work,” said Jason Medley, Chief People Officer at Codility.
“The seismic shocks from the pandemic have caused people to reprioritize life and work and many have selected life – and the quality of life – over work.”
The Need to Develop New Skills
Although tech skills are in high demand, there is much more growth in some areas than others. Plus, as a field that is always shifting, it’s important to be aware of emerging areas of expertise. According to Comptia’s report, some of the jobs experiencing the most growth in demand include software developers, web developers and project managers. Job postings also reflect a demand for people working in data and emerging tech fields.
Seepersad says shifts toward greater use of the cloud and DevOps are also likely to shift the job market. “Our 2021 Open Source Jobs Report, which will be released in late September, will reveal that 61% of technology professionals surveyed say their organization increased their use of cloud in the past year. Additionally, while DevOps practices had already become the primary way software was being built not long before the pandemic, use of those practices has skyrocketed during COVID. Eighty-eight percent of professionals now report using DevOps in their work, up more than 30% from the 58% who said this only three years ago. This change from monthly or quarterly release cycles to continuous deployment completely changes the game for both developers and operations teams, and will accelerate the rate of technological change even further.”
Of course, tech skills aren’t the only thing professionals will need, especially if remote work is at play. One thing the pandemic has also taught us is that relationships matter – even when they are built through a computer monitor.
“Having up-to-date and specialized tech skills is not enough on its own. Tech professionals should consider how their soft skills – communication, listening, collaboration, critical thinking and the ability to manage a project through to completion, measure up,” said Nick Gallimore, Director of Talent Transformation and Insight at Advanced. “More than ever, employers are looking for IT professionals who can work well with their team and wider employee base, so this is the time for those individuals to invest in developing a good balance of soft skills alongside the necessary tech skills.”
Like so many skilled workers during the pandemic, tech professionals were forced to pivot in their roles to help meet new and emerging needs. This has made many roles more cross-functional and sometimes even more client facing than in the past.
“The tech sector as a whole has been no exception to the evolutionary force of COVID-19, and careers within the sector have changed to be less siloed, more creative and in a more direct conversation with other industry sectors,” Listingartsaid.
“The tech sector as a whole has been no exception to the evolutionary force of COVID-19, and careers within the sector have changed to be less siloed, more creative, and in a more direct conversation with other industry sectors.”
For tech professionals, this evolution will also mean the need to build out their resumes, learn new skills and tools, and showcase those skills to potential employers. This includes courses and certifications, among other options.
“Contributing to open-source projects is perhaps the best option,” said Wesley Exon, Founder and CEO of Best Value Schools. “Doing this builds a social network of people who are likely already working in the IT field, and also helps you gain experience with tools, frameworks, and languages that are in use in the real world. The contributions you make can be seen by prospective employers and add to your portfolio, making open source work a good way of improving your resume and learning new skills at the same time.”
An Increase in Automation
Data suggests that COVID-19 accelerated the adoption of robots and other forms of automation. For some workers, that can mean job losses. In the technology industry, it’s more likely to mean an increased demand for skilled workers.
“Employers are meeting the challenges of 2021 and 2022 with automation, specifically, robotic process automation (RPA) to take over menial and routine tasks, with business process automation (BPA) to act more holistically throughout an organization, creating entirely new workflows and complex processes for long-term sustainability,” said Daniel Cooper, Managing Director of Lolly.co.
The people who will be spearheading that shift, of course, are tech professionals.
A Whole New Ballgame
COVID-19 didn’t change the world, exactly, it just accelerated the world toward a new normal. In fact, back in 2016, Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, predicted a Fourth Industrial Revolution, one that he described as “characterized by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds.” We may experiencing that very revolution now, if just a little sooner than expected. And, while every revolution brings both positive and negative change, this one’s leaving tech professionals with the lion’s share of the upside.