UK IT hiring trends to watch 2020

We round up some of the key trends shaping the UK's IT hiring market, including key skills, salary expectations and the ongoing impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the job market.


Just as it seemed the UK finally had some clarity over its relationship with the EU, and that business leaders could look forward to slightly more certainty in uncertain times, the global coronavirus pandemic hit – and all bets were off.

"We barely got to take a breath between Brexit and this new global crisis", says Hakan Enver, MD at recruitment firm Morgan McKinley. "Out of the frying pan, into the fire."

Technology is a historically resilient industry, yet the combined factors of 2020 may be the toughest test of that resiliency to date. Here's what we expect to see from the UK's IT jobs market this year – including salary trends, the skills to have on your teams, and how to weather the biggest storm many of us have seen in our lifetimes.

COVID-19 bites the IT hiring landscape

After years of sustained job demand and salary growth across the technology sector in the UK, the severe impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic started to show in the spring of 2020.

Job openings in the UK’s IT sector plummeted by 56.5% month-on-month in April according to figures from the job board CV-Library. Year-on-year the volume of IT job listings was down by 59.4%. This has pushed the application to job ratio up by 134.6% over the previous month, as competition for vacancies heats up.

“Thousands of companies have put a pause on their hiring plans until there’s more certainty in the market and the pandemic is having an impact on all sorts of industries; including IT,” Lee Biggins, CEO and founder of CV-Library said.

“Unfortunately, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel at this stage, especially as we move into the thick of the spring/summer period, which tends to be quieter for hiring anyway."

Further research by CV-Library also found that 64.7% of IT professionals are worried about losing their job during the coronavirus pandemic, a figure which rises to 85.7% for IT professionals who are already on the government’s furlough scheme.

Data from jobs site Glassdoor similarly showed job openings in technology in the UK have dropped precipitously, by 43% between 1 March and 27 April 2020.

The worst could be behind us

That being said, the number of active job postings in the UK topped a million in July, with a particular surge in job ads for IT professionals, according to the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC).

"We've seen two years of digital transformation happening in the space of two weeks," TechUK's deputy chief executive Antony Walker told the BBC.

“It’s no surprise to see the demand for tech professionals rise as everyone has realised the important role tech has played in keeping the country going during these times,” Dominic Harvey, director at CWJobs added.

IT professionals might not be in a hurry to return to the office, however. Research by identity management specialist vendor Okta also found that just one in four of the 2,000 UK workers it surveyed want to go back to the office full-time after the pandemic subsides.

“We all work differently and the results of our study speaks to that. Some people perform better if they avoid their twice daily commute and head to work in their distraction-free home office,” said Jesper Frederiksen, VP and GM of EMEA at Okta.

Hiring moves online

Many technology firms continued to hire during the pandemic as demand for remote systems rose in response to government-mandated lockdown, but a looming recession could stop that trend in its tracks.

“Institutions continue to recruit business critical vacancies, whilst at the same time, ramping up their remote team systems and practice," according to Enver at Morgan McKinley.

"Software engineers, IT auditors, cyber security experts and data and analytics professionals will continue to be in demand, clients being prepared to conduct telephone or video conferences and online tests to determine if they are to be future colleagues," he added.

Indeed, technology in particular appears to be proving resilient to broader employment impacts. As Ann Swain, chief executive of the Association of Professional Staffing Companies said: “While it’s clear from this data and our conversations with members that COVID-19 has meant hiring freezes in some sectors, this has by no means resulted in a complete standstill. Technology is obviously proving resilient but we have also seen hiring activity in finance, HR and digital marketing during the pandemic.”

The UK's previously buoyant startup sector is an interesting test case here. Data published by a group of prominent venture capital firms in May showed 49% of startup respondents have frozen hiring, with another 32% slowing down hiring. Salaries had also been cut by at least 15% by 30% of startups during the pandemic.

The gender gap is real

Research published in April 2020 by the Centre for Economics and Business Resources (CEBR), commissioned by the cyber security startup Tessian, showed just one in six UK IT professionals were female, from a sample size of 608,000.

The research, which was conducted from the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, also found that only 17% of 30,000 UK IT Directors and 29% of 225,000 IT technicians were female.

IT engineers had the lowest proportion of female employees, with just 7% identifying as female. Just 25% of the cyber security sector is made up by women according to the analysis.

Then, when it comes to the pay gap, according to 2019 research by the Office for National Statistics, information technology technicians have a gender pay gap of 8%, with women holding only 28% of these jobs.

There are several practical ways to make your organisation more diverse and inclusive, including hiring with objectivity.

Jane Reddin, cofounder of the Talent Stack – a startup that focuses on building talent management toolkits for startups – explained: "Consider behaviours that show up when your team interviews a candidate, no matter where they're from, what their gender is, what their ethnic background is – so whatever diversity quota you're trying to hit, if you've got one, and then you'll deliver a fair and inclusive hiring process."

IR35 delay

Employers and IT contractors should be aware that the UK's IR35 tax rules have been delayed by the Treasury by one year amidst the coronavirus outbreak.

Since 2017, IR35 rules stated that public sector organisations would have to determine the tax status of contract workers, and whether they fell inside or outside the IR35 remit. In July 2019, HMRC stated in the draft finance bill that those rules were to be extended to medium- and large-sized private sector businesses, starting in April 2020, with that deadline now April 2021.

"This is a deferral, not a cancellation," Chief Secretary to the Treasury Stephen Barclay said at the time. "The government remain committed to reintroducing this policy to ensure that people who are working like employees, but through their own limited company, pay broadly the same tax as those employed directly."

This gives CIOs some much needed breathing room, but in the coming months, it will be crucial to draw up clear organisational maps to take stock of their workforce, off-payroll or not, as the new deadline looms. Assessing reporting lines will be crucial, as will weighing up the future pros and cons of reliance on contract workers, particularly for operational support.

Banks buck the trend

Despite widespread job uncertainty across the country as a result of COVID-19, the UK’s banking sector continues to buck the trend.

Figures from global recruiter Robert Walters and market analysis firm Vacancy Soft found new tech roles in banks have increased by 46% in the last three years, accounting for a third of overall job vacancies within banks. This is even more pronounced when the same figures show that overall vacancies in traditional roles at banks are down 42% over the same period.

“Where banks have been off-shoring or looking at ways to automate or streamline traditional roles, the cost saving from this is going back into a heightened investment into digital infrastructure – where the teams are based in the UK,” Dan Simmonite, business director at Robert Walters observes.

IT workers at risk of burnout

Research from the jobs site CV-Library in January found four in 10 UK IT professionals experienced feelings of burnout, with nearly two thirds stating that work is the main contributor.

The study, which surveyed 2,000 UK IT professionals, also found that 42% of workers in the IT industry have trouble sleeping, suffer from ongoing worry, and feel exhausted due to long hours (34%), high workloads (31%) and pressure from managers and colleagues (20% each).

Burnout is a fairly new and understudied phenomenon, and therefore practical advice to help avoid and mitigate its effects are thin on the ground. That being said, taking regular breaks and switching off outside of office hours is a good first step. If that doesn't help then you need to get support if you are starting to feel burnt out and let your manager or someone in HR know how you are feeling.

Lee Biggins, founder and CEO of CV-Library, said: “While some professionals thrive on keeping busy, it shouldn’t get to a point where they’re taking work home with them, struggling to sleep or constantly feeling exhausted; and as an employer, you have a duty of care towards your team.

“Be sure to create an open channel of communication so employees know they can come to you with any concerns they may have about their workload. Nowadays, addressing mental health and prioritising the wellbeing of employees is crucial for organisations; particularly when it comes to attracting, recruiting and retaining the best workers.”

When advertising for roles it is also good practice to highlight any services you offer that support mental health in the workplace.

Salaries continue to rise, for now

Published before the pandemic took hold, Robert Half's 2020 Salary Guide claimed that the number of new job roles was set to rise from 16% to 27% in 2020, as companies continue to push forward digital transformation agendas.

Read next: 2020 IT salary expectations

Analysis published in June by tech recruiter Hired showed the average UK tech salary was up 9% year-on-year at £67,000.

Figures from recruitment agency Morgan McKinley painted a starker picture, as jobs dropped by 38% month-on-month in March across London. Salaries in the City still rose by 12% for the quarter, marking the lowest increase in over two years, excluding July 2019, according to the firm's Spring London Employment Monitor.

Research published in January by jobs board CV-Library showed that UK IT salaries continue to buck the national trend by growing 2.8% in the final few months of 2019. The report looked at jobs data for Q4 2019 and found that the number of job applications in the IT sector rose by 38%.

CV-Library CEO Lee Biggins said: “It’s clear that companies in the IT sector are refusing to be held back by the recent political turbulence. But this only means that competition for top talent will intensify. With salaries on the rise across the industry, you might want to consider providing more than just a good wage to new employees.

“By offering flexible working, company benefits and career development opportunities, you’ll ensure that your company will attract the best candidates around. With such fantastic growth in the market, now is the perfect time to think about establishing the best packages and pushing forward with your recruitment efforts.”

Enterprise architects are the best paid non C-level roles

Before the pandemic hit, the role of the enterprise architect was trending upwards, often coming out as the best paid job outside the C-suite.

"Over the second half of 2019, there was noticeable growth in the number of architecture roles, mainly at the £80,000+ level. Clients looked for strategic individuals – for example, an infrastructure architect with an enterprise architect mindset," Angela Lewis at Morgan McKinley explained.

Glassdoor data showed enterprise architects as the best paid role in its top jobs list – which is measured by its own scoring system – paying on average £75,209; data from recruiter Robert Half, meanwhile, pegs the figure at £122,000-£140,000.

Elsewhere, Robert Half's 2020 Salary Guide notes that the UK IT sector can expect growing demand for project managers, infrastructure architects and system administrators, whilst business intelligence, IT management and IT security roles remain the hardest for CIOs and IT leaders to find skilled candidates to fill.

Data scientist pay has also levelled off a tad after being one of the hottest roles for the past few years, with Robert Half reporting an average of £70,000-£85,000, down from £77,500-£116,250 last year.

Amanda Stansell, senior economic research analyst at Glassdoor said: “Enterprise architect is the first technology role to be named the Best Job in the UK, beating marketing, finance and ops roles that have traditionally taken the top spot. With the highest salary of the 25 Best Jobs, this demonstrates that technology roles are not only offering attractive compensation but also offer an increasing level of highly prized job satisfaction.”

Similarly Morgan McKinley predicts that Devops Engineer, Cloud Architect and Data Scientist will be the hottest roles in 2020.

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