Empowering BAME talent in tech will help close the widening skills gap

Written by Mark Martin MBE, Founder, UKBlackTech

In London, only 3% of the technology industry’s employees are black according to data compiled for the Evening Standard, and a grand total of 15% come from BAME backgrounds according to Tech Nation. This has long since prompted calls for wider diversity in the sector, not just for the sake of it, but to make sure the next generation of diverse talent can feel empowered to launch and excel in tech careers.

The impact this is having on the tech industry’s skills gap – which is set to hit 4.3 million workers by 2030 – is well documented. But the fact that the gap is widening isn’t down to a shortage of talent, but to the lack of access, awareness and opportunities which has long since been a major blocker in attracting and nurturing homegrown talent within the industry.

Indeed research by the Institute of Coding has already shown that this lack of diversity is actively putting young people off pursuing careers in the industry. This means that we’re losing out on a huge talent pipeline that could hold the AI experts and data scientists of the future that we so desperately need.

The story so far

Along with a number of other impactful initiatives – from Coding Black Females who are building a thriving community of black female developers, to OneTech, a movement created to increase opportunities for female & BAME founders – UKBlackTech has been on a mission to make the UK the most ethnically diverse tech ecosystem in the world.

Over the past four years we’ve worked tirelessly to tackle the ethnicity talent gap, focussing on five main goals for our ‘100 year plan’: to increase the numbers of black and ethnic minorities at all levels in tech; to help individuals and digital businesses to become self-sustainable through long term growth and consistency; to showcase tech professionals and digital businesses in mainstream media and events; to transfer wealth and knowledge to the younger generations through projects and initiatives; and to build a community that collaborates, partners and shares resources.

Our expertise and insight into tech and digital businesses has already helped to shift the dial, with thousands of people in the UK tech sector engaging through our platforms and events. However, the work by no means starts or ends with us. To continue moving the dial, the industry needs to collectively promote equity, transparency and representation at a decision making level, while continuing to support grassroot campaigns and initiatives that provide practical tools and guidance at an individual level.

The next step: accessible education

At UKBlackTech we believe that education has a vital part to play in making sure that not just young people of different ethnic backgrounds, but also BAME professionals at all stages in their careers, are able to access the tools they need to establish and boost their technical skillset.

There are many practical steps we as an industry can take to make sure people from disadvantaged and minority communities have the same chance to continue developing their skills. Last March, for example, UKBlackTech hosted a visual effects night in Brixton to help students, parents and the wider community to understand the opportunities in the visual effects, animation and gaming industry. Dispelling myths around careers in tech and showcasing the exciting variety of sector pathways to local communities can have a huge impact on interest in and uptake of tech jobs.

In July we also partnered with the Institute of Coding, FutureLearn and the University of Leeds to create the free and flexible online ‘Digital Skills for the Workplace’ courses that have been specifically designed to help up-skill, re-skill and empower people facing barriers to gaining a foundation of digital employability skills to build on.

Something as simple as signposting to useful resources and opportunities like these will allow the tech industry to reach people from a wider variety of backgrounds who may not have otherwise considered entering into the sector.

We have a great opportunity to make the UK the most innovative place in the world, but we need to ensure that the tech industry – its products, services and organisations – reflect us all. As we move further into the new decade, the need to build on the momentum gathered so far, and continue working collaboratively to address the many challenges faced by potential and existing BAME talent, is as urgent as ever. All of this movement will not only help to increase representation in the industry and create a more diverse ecosystem, but will ultimately help to close the skills gap.

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