According to Estonian Founders Society, which brings together Estonian startups, the startup sector is growing at a rate of at least 20% per year. Right now, according to the data available, around 5000 people are working in this sector and we will need an additional 1000 new experts a year on top of the existing growth if we are to support continued growth in this sector. And these numbers only concern the startup sector alone. Estonia’s IT sector as a whole is much bigger than that. But despite that, only about 400-500 new IT specialists are joining our workforce every year after graduating from university. Three main options have been suggested to fill in the gap between demand and supply: increasing existing training volumes, bringing foreign specialists to Estonia, and subcontracting cheaper labour from other countries. There is actually at least one more solution for fixing this deepening issue – increasing the efficiency of existing and new employees.

In part, our educational establishments are already helping to bring this solution to life by updating their curricula, hiring renowned lecturers from abroad and supporting lifelong learning. On the other hand, increasing people’s efficiency is also the responsibility of employers – they can create a positive organisational culture that supports constant development which in turn has an impact on not only the individual specialist, but the company’s financial results as well. As a result of these activities, the productivity of Estonian employees has consistently increased over the last 20 years. While this shows that we are definitely on the right track, our productivity is currently still well below the European Union average by more than 20% despite the efforts made by our country and employers.

The contribution of the employees

One important component in increasing their efficiency and productivity is the employees’ personal contribution which the country, our universities or our employers cannot be fully responsible for. Nonetheless, all of them can and must support personal contribution. The ICT sector is evolving too fast for country-wide strategies to keep up with the developments, which also means that important changes cannot be made as quickly as necessary. This means that every future-oriented employee must show initiative by designing their own future according to their personal goals and global trends.

The global Solarwinds IT Trends Report 2020 results show that the most important factor that employers consider when hiring new IT employees is their knowledge of new technologies (e.g. artificial intelligence, microservices), yet over 40% of people working in IT say that most candidates lack these skills. According to the same research, security and meeting regulatory requirements (e.g. GDPR, RMF) are the most critically important things in IT today, taking up about 10% of the average workday. It is fairly safe to predict that in the next few years, these fields will not lose their importance and we can be more than sure that new fields, including ones we have not even heard of yet, will also join their ranks. A current of example of something similar are cloud technologies, which were so marginally important 10 years ago that specialists who were in university back then did not even pay much attention to them.

Soft skills

Along with the evolution of IT, technology in general has spread into various fields (e.g. medicine, business and human resources, industry etc) and in turn, many fields have integrated with IT. According to Solarwinds’ report, three non-IT skills are considered the most important in being able to successfully manage IT systems: project management, communication, and leading people. CIO magazine’s 2019 State of the CIO research conducted last year also came to the same conclusion, stating that the strategical role of IT managers is increasingly more important in achieving organisational business goals. This means that in addition to IT, people need to obtain in-depth knowledge of business management, involving people in projects, entering new markets, and communication. LinkedIn’s Emerging Jobs Report, which they published at the end of last year, also brings attention to the increasing importance of soft skills and states that the future of IT is largely dependent on skills that cannot be automated – communication, creativity and collaboration.

In other words, young people who are studying IT today, must already account for the expectations that employers will have for them in three or five years’ time – what kind of non-IT skills will be most valued, how this may change in time, and what their career opportunities are in the long-term (e.g. 15 years from now).

The responsibility of the student

It is difficult for our higher education establishments to keep up with every bigger and smaller trend and it is actually impossible to offer a degree that would include personnel and project management, strategical planning, and in-depth technical knowledge all in one in such a short amount of time. That is why it is the responsibility of current and future employees to educate themselves in various fields and to work on continued personal development.

With the new school year in sight, I suggest that all new students seriously think about the aforementioned issues and make a practical plan that would enable them to learn those critical skills that current curricula are not offering but which are needed for a successful career. Above all, I recommend focusing on fields that you already have an interest in as well as on companies that give their trainees actual work – this is the only way to truly understand what our sector is actually like.

After years of working with trainees, I know that it is not easy for students to find companies who have enough time or motivation to teach them and offer them a practical experience with real value. As an entrepreneur, I understand this attitude, but I would like to remind everyone that today’s trainees will be our colleagues tomorrow and that it is our duty as employers to ensure that they are well-prepared for their jobs. Our diverse training programmes along with the fact that we offer actual work experience and give meaningful feedback to students means that we are helping to increase the efficiency of future employees, which benefits both employers and students as well as our country.

If you still have time until your apprenticeship, I recommend working on side projects – whether a startup or a charity project – that offer the freedom of trying out new technologies and solutions along with the huge opportunity of gaining real work experience prior to your apprenticeship. In addition to the experience they offer, these kinds of short-term projects are also good for bolstering your CV, which you can use when applying for your first real job.

Klemens Arro
CEO, ADM Cloudtech

This article was also published on Estonian Public Broadcasting online news site ERR.