Highlights from the FDM-WiTT event: Addressing the IT Skills Gap

Last year the World Economic Forum published its report on The Future of Jobs, a survey of chief human resources officers and top strategy executives from companies across nine broad industry categories and covering 15 of the world’s largest economies. The consensus was that the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which includes developments in fields such as artificial intelligence and machine-learning, robotics, nanotechnology, 3-D printing, and genetics and biotechnology, will cause widespread disruption not only to business models but also to labor markets over the next five years. With such disruptive changes in technology affecting almost every industry, how to obtain and invest in the required skill sets needed to thrive in the new landscape is a key agenda item for every business today.

The UK is one of the economies benefiting early from this Fourth Industrial Revolution with a high level of tech growth. London, specifically, is home to one of Europe’s fastest-growing tech clusters with 27% of all job growth generated by the tech and digital sector. Yet, reports and studies are being released from the IT industry with increasing frequency highlighting the growing gap in skills needed to support current and future business demands. With staff shortages and outdated skills preventing companies from delivering on current business demands, the IT skills gap is likely to get worse.

What is industry’s response to this growing issue? With declining numbers of computer science graduates and an uncertain political landscape affecting the sourcing of foreign talent, companies are having to find new recruits and train them in creative ways.

On June 14th, Women in Telecoms & Technology and FDM hosted an event to explore these issues. We chose to run our event during London Tech Week; one of the Week’s streams was talent and diversity.

WiTT board director Michelle Senecal led a fantastic panel in a discussion of these issues. She was joined by:

  • Sheila Flavell, Chief Operating Officer, FDM Group;
  • Yvonne Gallagher, CIO of the National Audit Office
  • Sally Springbett, Director Sapphire Partners
  • Felizitas Lichtenberg, Group Diversity and Inclusion Manager, Vodafone. and
  • Trudy Norris-Grey, Chair of WISE and Managing Director, Business Development for Microsoft.

[If you’d like to see the stream from this event, please to go to FDM’s Facebook page, at https://www.facebook.com/FDMGroup/ and scroll down to June 14th.]

Michelle kicked off the discussion with some research: in the UK IT leaders report that 42% of their staff do not have skills that are applicable for the jobs they’re doing today. In the next 12 months, 2/3 say they don’t believe they’ll be able to fill the jobs they have to keep their businesses moving forward. This is a growing gap. However, with the challenge comes opportunity, and we’d like to see more women meeting that challenge and finding that opportunity.

Michelle’s first question was for Sheila: here in the UK until the mid-’80s computer science was a female profession; 37% of all computer graduates were women. But over the last 10 years the total number of computer science graduates, men and women, has declined 23%. If we’re expecting to fill all these IT skills jobs with people coming out of university, it’s not going to happen. How is FDM helping to close this gap?

Sheila told us that FDM considers itself the bridge between academia and the workplace. The company takes new graduates, ex-forces and mother returners, brings them into one of their centers in the UK or around the world, and trains them to become computer programmers, Java or .NET programmers, data analysts, business analysts, test analysts, etc. They then employ “every single one of them” and deploy them into one of their client sites. Over the last 26 years FDM has built up a base of more than 250 large clients. They include most of the UK’s largest banks, government, and businesses across a number of sectors. After two years the companies can employ the FDM contractors directly. Sheila’s daughter who went through the FDM program post-university, went to Morgan Stanley and after two years joined their workforce. That’s the basic FDM model. The company receives more than 100,000 applications each year. Last year they employed just over 1,000 in the UK.

Michelle’s next question was for Felizitas: Cisco has commissioned a study that reported that almost 3/4 of women in IT will leave the sector by the time they hit 37. This doesn’t necessarily mean they stop working; many choose to work in other industries. Tell us about what you’re doing at Vodafone to retain those women.

Felizitas talked about Vodafone’s new “Reconnect” program, which was launched in 2016. It focuses on the great potential of people who take career breaks. Although it’s mainly directed at women, it’s also open to men. Vodafone and KPMG did a study that showed that there are some 96 million people worldwide who have worked before but who are not in the workforce now. More than half have had middle management and above experience. There are highly-skilled people whose potential is not being used. The Reconnect program focuses on this group and encourages those who take career breaks, for whatever reason —family, travel, illness, etc. The goal is to hire 1,000 “Reconnects” by 2020. This should also help Vodafone to increase its female share.

Felizitas said, “In my personal opinion people are often afraid of changing career paths, or taking a break. But the skills you learn at this time, traveling, or trying to launch a start-up, are valuable. … It’s important to say it’s OK whether you continue to work through life or take breaks and come back. We … offer flexible options through Reconnect to have the group.” The program provides development training, mentors, buddies, flexible working hours and home working. Returners are also encouraged to start by working a little less or four days a week, so they can ease back in gradually.

Michelle then turned to Sally: Ultimately we’re all trying to get to the top of an organization. But a lot of the stats I’m looking at say corporate boards aren’t investing appropriately in the skills area. They see it as a cost and not an asset. Could you talk about senior leadership and board experience?

Sally noted that her remarks were her personal opinions. “I can’t help but feel there’s a degree of lip service paid. There are organizations with very supportive executives at all levels who are doing great work to encourage women through the pipeline. With regard to senior executives, I think women need particular help, and mentoring, sponsorship, and coaching are all key to that. With NED roles a number of companies want to bring women and men onto their boards who have strong digital tech skills. But it’s usually just one person. Is that enough? I don’t think so. There are number of boards where I’m not convinced people know what Whatsapp is… I think there needs to be a bit of a sea change.”

Michelle’s next question was for Trudy: “Pipeline building really begins in elementary school. One study talked about the fact that 37% of girls today don’t have a single family member or anyone they know who works in the IT industry. So they can’t say what do we do and they don’t seem to think that their skills will fit in the sector; they think tech jobs require you to sit by yourself in front of a screen for 40 hours. It’s antisocial.”

In addition to being Managing Director, Worldwide Business Development at Microsoft, Trudy chairs WISE, a UK-based not-for-profit organization that seeks to add one million more women to the UK STEM workforce. Trudy noted that every teenager wants very much to fit in, and they can be easily influenced by just one casual throwaway comment, such as, “Why would you want to do IT?” And that’s it.

WISE has a program called “People Like Me”; “it’s about saying, for example, people like me, I’m from Swansea and I didn’t do tech or computers, but here I am, having a great time; I travel the world, sometimes I have great shoes, and by the way I earn a really good salary. You know, the things that we don’t talk about.

It may be, ‘I don’t do maths’; let’s talk about that. What do you do? We know apps developers are really creative and collaborative. But if I were to stereotype, girls can do that rather well. So how about you think about it? And it’s having that conversation to put it squarely on the table as an option….When you tell girls about your ordinary day they light up. And the interesting thing is so do the parents, so do the teachers. A lot of the time they don’t encourage the girls because they don’t know and they don’t like being seen not to know. … This country and our industry’s digital transformation needs leadership and communities coming and helping.”

Michelle’s final introductory question went to Yvonne: “Over the past few years there has been such a push in government to move on this digital transformation journey. There’s a movement from only working with large systems integrators to using more SMEs and also encouraging diversity. What are you seeing in government? Will there be an increase in jobs for women, or not?

Yvonne told us that Government has been totally committed to diversity and targets for many years. Today three out five senior posts are held by women. The problem now is skills to support digital transformation. We need people who understand how to move from the old to the new. And digital leadership is difficult to find, whether it’s men or women.

Digital skills have become so scarce in this country, and attracting them into government has become very difficult. So trying to push an agenda which says we would like more women or trying to put any kind of targets around that is extremely difficult.

Large IT organizations should be able to set targets and have policies around diversity. But as government moves to disaggregate IT services and work with smaller players, that may become more difficult. This creates a very mixed picture.

Michelle then asked the panel: “There’s been some discussion around the industry …that a lot of these female-first or diversity programs will have to take second priority so companies can fill the skills gap. In 2017 CIO magazine in 2017 surveyed women about what they want in a workplace, and their priorities were paid time off; salary satisfaction; outstanding co-workers, equal opportunities for men and women; and flexible work hours. I can’t tell the difference between what a woman wants and what a man would want. What are your businesses doing to attract and recruit individuals coming in to your companies?”

Felizitas described Vodafone’s ground-breaking global maternity policy. Because the company’s group CEO wants Vodafone to be the best employer for women, all mothers around the word receive 16 weeks of paid leave. While this is common in some countries, such as Germany, it’s very unusual for, say, the U.S. “People cried because they were so thankful that they can become a parent and then take 16 weeks off to spend with the baby, fully paid, plus up to six months reduced working hours with full payment. …over 4,000 families benefit from it.”

Sheila talked about attracting and retaining millennial: “For me and for FDM it’s all about culture and values. What we believe millennial want from a job or career is to join an organization that shares their values and were they can embrace the culture. FDM’s all about kick-starting people’s careers.” In the tech industry only 17% of employees are women; the FDM workforce is 27% female. However, the company is most focused on finding talent, “and we’re not university snobs. We couldn’t care less which university you went to. Or which degree you have or discipline you studied. …We look for people who have the capability and the attitude and the aptitude.”

Trudy agreed that culture and values are key. Culture “is the thing that will encourage people to join and encourage people to stay and more importantly to do their best and benefit for themselves and the operation they work for.” Microsoft is going through a great deal of change now, and is investing in change management. It has introduce a speaker series to help employees understand different perspectives. Two of their speakers recently have been Margot Lee Shetterly, who wrote “Hidden Figures,” and Caitlyn Jenner who shared her story of being a male Olympian and becoming Caitlyn. “It’s just about saying it’s OK to be you. And that has huge culture value.”

Michelle picked up on the theme: “Culture starts at the top, doesn’t it? Sally, what are you seeing at the higher levels in terms of unique attraction or retention activities? Do you find the topic of quotas comes up at that level?”

Sally said that quotas come in to everything. However, although culture and values are very important, there still seems to be a belief that people move for money. “Our experience is that isn’t the case. People move to work in organizations with values and culture; places where they can learn and develop; places that won’t pigeon-hole them; places with role models… and where they see that there is a career path. … It’s about ideally working in a place where you can put down roots.”

Yvonne said that government is a great employer for women; for those women returning from maternity leave there are generous returning policies, flexible working, job-sharing, part-time working, compressed hours — a spectrum of opportunities for different types of work. The issue is that there aren’t that many women in government tech roles.

Michelle stayed on the subject of quotas: the initial goal of Lord Davies’s work was to have women occupying 30% of board roles at FTSE 100 companies. There’s now some discussion abbot pushing those targets down to the FTSE 250. FDM just moved into the top 250, and Michelle is on the board. She asked for Sheila’s view.

Sheila said “I think, do I believe in quotas? Not really; however, if that’s how you’re going to get your foot in the door then so be it. You’re not going to stay there if you’re no good, so get your foot in the door….

We have to get more women on to boards, but we need to get more women up though the pipeline as well. We’re bringing in 27% of women but then a lot of them will leave to have children or care for elderly relatives or travel, so we’re losing them at the middle. How do we get them to the top if we can’t get them through the middle? … Women who go off to have children, and I’m a returner, I’m sure a number of you today are, and we lose our confidence. …We want to get back but think no one will want us. [at FDM] we spend weeks training our women in soft skills, influencing skills, confidence-building before we train them in anything technical, which they’re normally very good at anyway. I think we’ve got to increase the pipeline, get more women back in at the middle so we can get them up so at least they can be interviewed for a board level position.”

Felizitas agreed. “When I started working in HR I was not used to the concept of quotas … however after having done this for three to four years I truly believe in it.” But it’s also important to be aware of unconscious bias, and of promoting “people like us.”

Trudy said, “I wasn’t one for quotas but I’m absolutely convinced. You have to measure it: where are we now? Where do we want to be? That’s the first thing: be very clear about where we’re going. Who’s responsible for it? Are you going to call it out if this doesn’t happen?…We have in WISE a program called 10 Steps. It’s not a silver bullet or revolutionary. It’s all about mentoring, sponsoring, role models, metrics. At a CEO breakfast on Monday we heard that if they saw something not creating the change the wanted they called it out in their annual reports. And you could see those making progress vs. those who weren’t. Are you going to really make a difference and give it time? That’s what it comes down to as well as all the tools.”

Michelle noted that two panelists had mentioned unconscious bias. She asked how many have programs in place to address it.

Yvonne said unconscious bias courses are mandatory in government. “It’s done in a workshop environment so there’s a lot of self-realization about how we all jump to conclusions when we meet people or have first impressions of them. And they all have action plans that people have to commit to start doing things differently. Clearly unconscious bias is not just in the recruitment processes but in who you choose to work in your team and who you promote. It’s a good program that works well.”

Sally said Sapphire Partners tries to challenge its clients around unconscious bias. Job specs are riddled with them. But the trouble with the trend is it almost needs to be reinforced on a three-monthly basis. “We’ve had years of programming that makes us what we are. Training is good but it needs to be reinforced.”

The panel then shifted its focus to the impact of AI on jobs.

Trudy feels we all have to keep on reinventing ourselves. “…one of the sad stories about digital transformation is for every new digital job that’s created four male jobs or male-type tasks done by males will go away. That number for women goes up 20. We do some of the tasks that will be readily and easily replied by AI or VR or whatever capabilities are coming. …… it’s a real wake-up call is to encourage people to be relevant whatever the future holds. …It’s about lifelong learning. Keep curious; watch others, especially those who are successful and take action. You can’t sit back.”

Sheila agreed: “Keep your skills relevant; keep up to date, keep moving forward, keep going on courses. That’s what’s going to keep you current in today’s tech marketplace. If you keep your skills current you can work anywhere in the world.”

Sally said the key message is “to take all the opportunities given to you, and if they’re not given have the confidence to go for them. We are often our own worst enemies with self-belief and worthiness. We’re all much more accomplished than we believe. … Find someone to mentor and develop you. …You’re all capable of way more than you think you are. It’s an exciting time; the world will constantly change and evolve. Go for it.”

Yvonne believes a career in technology “is an amazing thing and it’s an amazing area to get into. I think in those early years just get a good grounding; once you have that you can really go into any area in tech. … I would say this last four years have been the most exciting time in my career because of all the changes going on. My message is once you have the grounding you get it all and it comes so naturally after that.”

The panel then addressed questions from the audience on unconscious bias; the IT skills gap in the UK versus the way developing nations have embraced IT skills training in schools; the role of parents and teachers in IT skills development and acceptance of tech as an interesting field to pursue; whether IT skills training is too male-focused in the UK;

WiTT would like to thank FDM for co-hosting this event for us and for all the help and support provided by the FDM team.



Panel Chair
Michelle Senecal de Fonseca
Area Vice President, Citrix Systems

Michelle Senecal de Fonseca has developed a career of more than 30 years in international telecommunications and technology and currently serves as Area Vice President for Citrix Systems. Prior to joining Citrix, she was the Director of Cloud & Hosting Services, a global line of business for Vodafone Group Enterprise. With operational experience in more than 50 countries on all continents, she has worked with Cable & Wireless Worldwide, Fidelity Data Networks, NextiraOne, Worldport, Global One, Sprint International and US West International. Ms. Senecal de Fonseca’s executive positions have ranged from Managing Director and CFO to head of Sales and Marketing, Corporate Development, Strategic Planning, and Corporate Communications.
From 2007-2011, Ms. Senecal de Fonseca worked at  the  European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) where she  managed the Telecom, Media and Technology banking team and its associated €3 billion investment portfolio within the international financial institution.

Michelle also serves as a non-executive Director of the FDM Group – a FTSE listed IT service provider, serves on the Investment Board of MOVe Capital – a first time European fund investing in enterprise services businesses and is a Director of the Women in Telecom and Technology. She holds a dual degree in Business and Political Science from the University of Kansas and Masters in Business from Thunderbird School of Global Management in Phoenix, Arizona where she also serves on the school’s Global Council. She has dual British/American citizenship, has been recognised by Global Telecoms Business magazine as one of the telecommunication industry’s most influential leaders and lives with her husband and three children in London.  .


Sheila Flavell
Chief Operating Officer, FDM

Sheila Flavell is the Chief Operating Officer and an Executive Board Director of FDM Group and has over 26 years of experience in both the public and private IT sectors internationally. She is passionate about enhancing diversity in the workplace and creating exciting careers for the next generation of digital talent. Sheila’s experience and knowledge of the sector has been crucial in driving the Group’s global expansion programme, taking FDM into the FTSE250. Sheila spearheads FDM’s Global Women in Tech campaign and FDM’s Getting Back to Business programme, aimed at providing opportunities for returners to work. She sits on the main Board of techUK and the Women in Tech Council and is frequently called to advise government committees on various issues, especially around the digital skills gap.

Sheila has won numerous awards throughout the years for her services to both business and the tech industry. This includes being recognised as one of the top 25 Most Influential Women of the Mid-Market by CEO Connection, Leader of the Year at the everywoman in Technology Awards, one of the 100 Women Role Models in Tech by Business Cloud, being selected as one of Brummell Magazine’s Top 30 Most Inspirational Female Entrepreneurs in the City, and awarded the Editors’ Choice Award at the Women in IT Awards.


Felizitas Lichtenberg
Global Diversity & Inclusion Manager, Vodafone

Felizitas Lichtenberg is Global Diversity & Inclusion Manager at Vodafone. “At Vodafone, we have understood that Diversity is important. Diversity & Inclusion is crucial for our colleagues, for our customers and for our societies worldwide. Because it is right. Because we are all different. Because we are all biased. We identify challenges and opportunities, create concepts, as well as drive and track measures to have a global impact on processes and cultures. Equal conditions and opportunities matter to all of us.”

Felizitas was previously Manager, Leadership, Talent and Diversity at Vodafone Germany, where she defined KPIs, tracked performance and analysed data; drove measurement based on a 4C strategy (Colleagues, Customers, Communities, Communications) and redesigned the female talent program “Women@Vodafone”.

She has also worked as Marketing Manager – Consumer Marketing Postpay at Vodafone Germany, and as a Junior Consultant at COCUS AG. Felizitas holds a Masters in European Business from ESCP Europe / ESCP-EAP and a Bachelors degree in Media, Culture and Leisure Planning from Oxford Brookes University.


Trudy Norris-Grey
Chair, WISE; MD, Worldwide Business Development, Microsoft

Trudy Norris-Grey is a recognized leader in the IT industry, with over 30 years of success spanning global sales, marketing, channel and partner strategies, business development, and portfolio transformation. As Microsoft’s leader for business development for its public sector and commercial industry business, Norris-Grey heads a team focused on digital transformation –  particularly creating, incubating and accelerating new markets and new business models in service of all public-sector customers as their operations and responsibilities evolve and change.

Prior to assuming her current role, Norris-Grey held positions at Microsoft, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, and BT. In all these positions she was a champion of the customer and its partners, seeking out insight into their unmet needs in order to better serve them, to help them overcome their challenges and in turn work with them to grow their customer satisfaction, revenue and profit.  In 2012, Norris-Grey joined Microsoft as General Manager overseeing the public sector business in Central and Eastern Europe.

In her spare time, Norris-Grey is a passionate advocate for the development of skills and enterprises so that they can be continually relevant in the era of Industrial Revolution v.4.0; the encouragement of women and girls to consider careers in science, engineering and technology; climate change. She is Chair of WISE, a UK-based organization which seeks to add 1 million more women to the UK STEM workforce. She has also served as Chair for the Confederation of British Industry’s (CBI) Committee on Innovation, Science & Technology; a member of the UK’s National Careers Council; editor and contributor to the Wilson and Shadbolt Reviews; a member of the oversight committee for the UK’s national Technology Strategy Board and was a founding member of the CBI Leadership Group on Climate Change. She also sits on an advisory panel for the Welsh Government in the finance and professional services sector.

A native of Swansea in the U.K., Norris-Grey and her husband have three children.




Yvonne Gallagher
CIO of the National Audit Office

Yvonne has over 25 years’ experience in IT, business change, digital services and cyber and information assurance. She has had senior roles in the private sector in large organisations such as the Prudential and Network Rail and also in the public sector in government.

Yvonne’s role in the NAO is to support the NAO’s work for Parliament evaluating how well Digital and associated business change programmes are implemented to deliver value for money. She was CIO in two government departments, as well as Chief Digital Officer and CIO in the private sector prior to her move to the NAO.


Sally Springbett
Director, Sapphire Partners

Sally has worked in the executive search industry for over 15 years at Ridgeway Partners, Russell Reynolds Associates, Whitehead Mann and GKR, focusing primarily on international financial services and board level recruitment.

She previously worked in London’s Olympic Bid team, London 2012, and at Wasserstein Perella and County NatWest. Sally has an MSc in Human Resource Management from the London School of Economics and Political Science.



FDM is a global professional services provider with a focus on IT. We work in partnership with over 180 market leading clients to help them achieve specific business objectives through the provision of quality IT and business solutions. Our award winning programme provides training to university graduates, ex-Forces personnel and those looking to return to work after a career break, transitioning them into professional IT and business Consultants before placing them with our clients worldwide.