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Over the past decade, the tech industry has exploded like no other. Innovation beyond the wildest dreams of previous generations has arrived in the form of smartphones, big data, virtual reality and bitcoin. Huge private and public investment in research centres and tech clusters around the country has arisen, such as TechNorth, Silicon Fen and Roundabout, making technology a pivotal industry in the UK landscape.

The result is a rapidly-changing market which demands more skilled STEM workers. While the almost 30% uplift in the Computing A-level entries this year is encouraging it still comes from an incredibly small base. More than one million digital technology roles were advertised last year alone, as Tech City’s 2015 Tech Nation report highlighted. And the problem is only set to get worse; according to the EU Commission, by 2020 Europe will lack 900,000 IT professionals - that’s equivalent to Stockholm’s population. In the meantime the UK has a STEM skills shortage that could suffocate its renewed economic engine.

The strangled supply of STEM workers

While the government works to solve this problem through vocational paths, labour market regulation, apprenticeships and education policy, the solutions it proposes are long term and don’t address the immediate demand for skilled IT workers. Consequently, big businesses and fledgling start-ups have few options to turn to. The strangled supply of STEM workers means that many can choose to work as contractors for hugely inflated salaries, out of the reach of many start-ups and frustrating the finance departments of those lucky enough to afford them.

The challenge for CIOs

Upskilling existing employees is undoubtedly a preferred option. Developing your employees’ skills boosts employee satisfaction and morale and helps build a strong company culture that can attract further talent which shares your company’s values.

However, the old methods of upskilling are not necessarily the best for today’s developers and IT professionals. The YouTube generation craves immediacy and wants access to information so they can resolve work-related problems when they need it, whether on the job or on the move. They certainly won’t wait for a scheduled classroom training course.

We know how time-consuming it can be to take people out of action for several days, and the disruption this can create. From our research, we’ve found that more than 70% of Pluralsight users in business accounts consume learning outside of working hours, so there is high demand to develop skills outside of the working day.

New ways of learning for today’s workforce

The reality is that forward-thinking companies are making a fundamental shift in the way they offer learning to their IT departments. With more than 93% of companies now using online learning courses of some description, it’s clear that a different style of learning, more focused on real-time problem solving rather than traditional classroom training is already taking an increasingly important role in the tech sector.

However, not all online learning solutions are created equal, and businesses need to think carefully about what their developer and IT talent wants. Nowadays these professionals demand access to up-to-date dynamic content and knowledge from the most accomplished and pivotal brains of their industry. Developers want to learn from the people who are pushing the boundaries of application design and try new coding languages as soon as they emerge. They also want their information in a searchable format of their choice so they can digest a short burst of training to upskill rapidly - and on a device of their choosing.

On-demand learning allows you to address all of these requirements by giving employees control over their own learning. It gives them the ability to apply their learning immediately, adding context to their understanding. Significantly, learning retention is proven to increase productivity by 14% due to higher levels of engagement and improved time to competency when learning becomes available at the point of need. This means that businesses can deliver their services around 26% faster, just by altering their accessibility to training.

IT talent needs to constantly refresh and improve their skills to maintain their relevancy. This also creates a culture of continuous learning, motivating your talent to constantly challenge themselves and learn outside of their current skillset. What was gospel two years ago is now demoted in favour of new frameworks. In 2012, our most popular courses were dominated by ASP.net - nowadays it’s Angular JS and C#.

By providing a 360 learning experience through skills assessment, focused training, re-assessment of newly acquired skills, combined with practical exercises, online mentoring and discussion forums, your employees will significantly improve their productivity and effectiveness.

Crucially, it will enable you to build a pipeline of skills long term, helping you evolve your talent in line with market changes. This type of responsive learning will ensure your talent remains agile and innovative so it can evolve alongside the business’ strategy in the long term, not just stemming short-term skills gaps.

By Julian Wragg, EMEA Director for Pluralsight