BT looks to India to plug digital skills gap

BT HQ One Braham logo

UK incumbent BT has launched a recruitment drive for its fledgling Digital division that will grow its headcount by 2,800 people, with only the minority being UK-based.

Roles span product management, software engineering, cloud, design, data, AI and machine learning, and agile delivery. The UK talent pool in these areas is either too shallow or too expensive (or both), because the majority of the new recruits, around 1,800, will be based in India. Specifically Gurugram and Bengaluru in the north and south of the country respectively.

The remaining 1,000 new employees are to be sprinkled around the UK, at BT’s hubs in Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Ipswich, London and Manchester. Up to 400 of the new employees will be entry-level hires, including graduates, apprentices, women returning to work, and so-on.

So why are the majority of roles going abroad? Looking at the most recent data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), employment of IT and telecommunications professionals in the UK increased 42.1 percent between September 2016 and September 2021. That would suggest there has historically been plenty of fresh meat for the grinder, when you consider that employment of entry-level cleaners fell 36 percent over the same period, for example.

It’s not as simple as all that though. For instance, programmers and software development professionals – at all levels – appears on the UK government’s shortage occupation list, which means foreigners with these particular talents are eligible to apply for a Skilled Worker visa. So are those with Web design and cyber security skills. In addition, a survey conducted by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) in late 2021 revealed that 82 percent of IT recruiters cited skills shortages as their biggest concern, while 79 percent said labour shortages was their biggest concern.

In addition, BT itself highlighted in a study it published in June that when it comes specifically to AI, there is a lack of awareness and interest among UK students in pursuing qualifications and careers in the field.

The implication then is that the likes of BT are struggling to fill vacancies fast enough with the talent available in the UK. Hence the need to cast the net further afield. Of course, you won’t find anything quite so candid in official press releases. It’s all a benevolent bridge-building exercise. After all, the UK is in the middle of negotiating a free trade agreement with India, and according to reports, a final agreement could be announced in the next few months.

“Digital was founded to accelerate BT’s transformation, innovation and return to growth. To succeed, we need to bring in and up-skill the top digital talent, and our efforts will boost the tech communities in the UK and India along the way,” said a statement from BT’s chief digital and innovation officer Harmeen Mehta.

“It’s great that BT is creating so many jobs in such an important area to future economic growth. I’m particularly pleased to see their investment in both the UK and in India – two titans in digital talent,” added Lord Bilimoria, founder of Cobra Beer and former president of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). “This announcement reflects the strong partnership between the two countries – and the innovation and business opportunities that a new trade deal between them could unlock.”

BT said it aims to complete the new recruitment drive by April 2024, by which time the Digital division will employ 6,300 people. It said its financial outlook won’t be affected because the hiring plan will be offset by a reduction in subcontractors.


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