Breaking the barriers into technology this National Coding Week

Jonathan Lister Parsons

by , CTO

at PensionBee

20 Sept 2022 /  

Sept 2022

Sitting man coding on a laptop

The business landscape is continually evolving, becoming more technology-dependent than ever before. Many companies have embarked on digital transformations, and while off-the-shelf software exists for many common use cases, such as simple websites and online storefronts, companies are increasingly turning to teams of software engineers to create custom applications that are tailored to their business. As a result, the UK software development industry has grown by 6.4% in the last year alone.

Despite the high demand for these roles, there are still many barriers to entry preventing talented individuals from pursuing a career in technology. Tech Nation’s 2021 report on diversity in the UK found disparities in various groups, including people from ethnic minorities and women, being underrepresented in the industry.

At its heart, this is a supply and demand problem. Technology’s a skill that can be shared, learnt and taught. Companies are calling out for skilled employees, but are often only looking to university graduates with computer science degrees, without considering how they could upskill their existing employees into those roles, or set up an apprenticeship scheme. Sadly, routes into technology careers aren’t made accessible to everyone, which has a direct impact on diversity in the sector. So, what can we do about it?

The industry shortage

Businesses are carried by employees and when shortages in any sector occur, the disruptions can be felt by us all. Take the recent union action by railway workers for example - employee action has been taken due to shortages in the industry, and consumers and individuals across the board are affected, even those beyond the sector. So imagine what a nationwide shortage of software engineers is doing to the UK economy and the companies within it. When innovation slows down, consumers are left to pay the price.

Opening up technical roles to a broader group of people is crucial in welcoming a wider range of transferable skills and experiences into the sector. Businesses need to address biases, nurture talent early and provide more role models within the industry if they’re to build a workforce that’s representative of today’s society.

The knowledge gap

Another aspect of this issue is the knowledge gap. At a glance, the situation appears to be improving, as students studying A-level Computing have increased over 13% this year. Engagement in technology’s widespread, and as a result children are becoming ‘tech literate’ from an early age. However, taking a closer look, we find that less than 20% of A-level Computing students are female. Sadly, this mirrors the current tech industry average of 19% female representation.

It’s no secret that the technology industry has a history of low diversity and, beyond gender, many groups continue to be underrepresented. Gaining exposure and experience within the technology sector proves to be more difficult for people from disadvantaged backgrounds, as they’re less likely to have access to the latest technology. Following the nationwide lockdown in March 2020, it was found that only 51% of households earning between £6,000 and £10,000 had home internet access, compared with 99% of households with an income over £40,000.

Leading the change at PensionBee

At PensionBee, we believe the only way to offer our customers the best possible product experience is by investing in a team that reflects our customer base and a modern technology platform that supports them. That’s why promoting diversity and inclusion within our team culture and hiring processes is a key focus of PensionBee, echoing our commitment to achieving wider representation and equality in the technology sector.

As a member of the Tech Talent Charter (TTC), a non-profit organisation leading a movement to address inequality in the UK tech sector, we regularly report publicly on our team’s diversity. We’re pleased to see 30% female representation within our technology team, but we know more needs to be done when it comes to achieving equal opportunities.

PensionBee supports talented team members to grow their careers into new areas as they progress in the company. Employees joining PensionBee in our Customer Success Team are enrolled in ‘The Program’, an initiative where they’re exposed to training and numerous educational activities to support their career development. Having the opportunity to collaborate on projects, while being mentored by senior leaders in our technology teams has inspired several team members to take online courses in software development and data analysis, with some going on to become Junior Software Engineers. To date, almost 50% of PensionBee’s Technology Team were trained internally after starting in a non-technology role.

Outside of our internal support, we’ve recently partnered with Makers to take on our first Software Engineering Apprentices. Apprenticeships offer a fantastic way to access many disciplines that are experiencing skills shortages, and because they’re open to anyone over the age of 16 and do not require specialist experience and funding to train, a significantly wider pool of people are able to apply. According to the ONS, for the 2021/22 academic year, the number of people starting a higher apprenticeship (which is equivalent to a foundation university degree) increased by 27%, when compared to the previous year. And this number’s likely to continue to grow, with the government currently funding apprenticeship training, making this a cost-effective route for companies when it comes to upskilling staff and finding employees.

Engineers at PensionBee tackle a wide variety of challenges across multiple technologies while enjoying a balanced and inclusive culture. We’re proud to have been awarded ‘Employer of the Year’ at the Financial Adviser Diversity in Finance Awards in 2020, 2021 and 2022, which shows that investing in both your people and your culture makes good business sense.

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