Networking in 2024: what will the new year bring?19 Dec, 20236 mins
The UK is still in the throes of building the infrastructure necessary to better support int...
The UK is still in the throes of building the infrastructure necessary to better support internet connectivity, whether it be via the ongoing 5G roll out or continued expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT).
As a result, the networking industry is facing a ballooning demand for its services, and for the personnel necessary to deliver them. Whilst the ever-evolving nature of tech makes prediction near impossible, there are a few areas where we anticipate growth in the year to come. Our CEO George Barnes shares some highlights.
Network engineers with software expertise become gold dust
Increasing numbers of businesses are considering integrating their network with elements such as blockchain and Web3. There has already been a notable push towards using blockchain for networking and automating that network, as well as surges in growth within the IoT–which we didn't expect to see this early on. We’ve noticed a particular uptick in organisations building networks to facilitate connected cars.
As a result, the demand for talent is going through a transition. A network engineer that used to do purely networking now needs to understand software development, and have an appreciation of upcoming areas such as blockchain or have explored one as a hobby. When I say blockchain, I’m referring to the underpinning technology which can be used for other purposes outside of cryptocurrency.
The landscape is clearly changing along with business requirements. For example, consider a kit that an organisation might buy from Cisco. It's comparable to buying an iPhone. Each iPhone is roughly the same but the markets are now so competitive that people are building their own software to go into the kit, to gain an advantage.
To facilitate this, organisations are eager to hire individuals who trained as network engineers but completed a software engineering degree. Because these candidates have a combination of software developer knowledge and real-world engineering experience, they are like gold dust to employers.
As businesses find more creative ways to use the Cisco kit, we’re also placing increasing numbers of candidates within automation software development. Previously, organisations simply used the kit for what it was intended, but now they're developing clever ways to build their own technology to bolt onto it, which then catapults the technology’s capabilities to new heights.
Previously, recruitment in the networking space involved finding an engineer who can help a business to replace or fix parts of a Cisco kit. But we’re increasingly seeing businesses wanting to rip the top off the Cisco box to see what’s inside and then create bespoke solutions. Essentially adapting software so it can do something completely different than their competitors are offering.
As a result of these developments, network engineers who are only five or ten years away from retirement are being required to learn new skillsets to remain competitive, which some may be unwilling to do.
Cyber requirements are growing at a breakneck pace
In the cybersecurity market, we are still facing a talent shortage in that there is a disparity between supply and demand. It’s not so much that the talent isn’t available, but cyber requirements are growing at a pace that the job market cannot keep up with.
The security requirements of businesses have expanded significantly and there is now a plethora of tools and systems available to help to protect against cyberattacks–just look at security authentication processes involved with setting up a new device. There is already an endless range of security solutions on the market, and these are only going to increase in the next 12 months.
Candidate demand is also being driven by an increased level of security awareness among businesses of all sizes. Whilst some have been slower on the uptake, it only takes a couple of high-profile hacking stories full of financial and reputational damage, for organisations to realise that security protection isn’t something to be skimped on. Therefore, we’re expecting to see cyber requirements continue to swell next year.
University courses need to move with the times
To maintain a strong talent pipeline for the network and IT sector, universities must ensure that their curricula match industry needs. The computer science course, for instance, is very popular and provides a useful overarching view of the market and its key technologies, but it doesn’t give candidates practical experience with any of those technologies and is so broad that it isn’t relevant to any particular client. To better meet market demand, we are therefore expecting to see increasing numbers of universities offering more specialised courses.
Another area where we’ve seen certain courses fall short is in keeping the syllabus up to date. Whilst certain universities do a fantastic job of defining a brilliant degree, five years later that degree is out of date because the technology has moved on and the syllabus is not updated every year. If the teaching material is not kept relevant, then universities are essentially pumping out students whose knowledge is not fit for purpose.
An uptick in the recruitment market
The last few years have been turbulent for the network recruitment industry. Hiring activity was on a steep upward trajectory until the pandemic hit. And although the market bypassed a huge dip in growth during the COVID period, it did shudder–largely due to uncertainty in the initial months.
Post-pandemic, the market rocketed as investors eagerly pumped money into tech. And in the last six months, we’ve seen activity largely returning to pre-pandemic levels–in other words growth has tailed off slightly but is still going up. Next year, however, we anticipate a significant surge in activity.
We’ve also seen a pattern, over the last 18 months, of businesses being reticent to invest in external recruitment because they’ve been rationalising budgets and cracking down on overspending. As a result, many invested in internal recruitment teams to save money but didn’t get the outcomes they hoped for and are now returning to external talent providers (like us) to plug those hard-to-fill positions. This will likely equate to a spike in interest over the coming months.