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To be the best: Why digital skills could be the smartest way to get a job

8 Sep 2019Empowering People
4 minute read

What makes a person successful – and what’s likely to indicate they’re someone you should employ?

Around the globe, to hire the brightest and best, companies are increasingly considering skills and abilities on a case by case basis rather than just relying on academic achievement.

Especially when it comes to the technology industry, where companies are evolving traditional hiring policies to focus on digital skills and potential.

When Annabelle Akintoye got a 2:2 in her degree in chemical engineering from Swansea University she was worried she wouldn’t be able to get a job in the tech industry.

“I felt sad because it’s ingrained in you that you have to get a 2:1,” she says.

But after doing a masters in engineering management – and getting a distinction – Ms Akintoye won a place on Vodafone’s Business Discover Graduate Scheme.

She doesn’t think she would’ve been able to get a foot in the door without the extra year doing a masters.

“When companies just hire people who have a 2:1 and above they miss out on people like me,” she says.

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Annabelle Akintoye. Picture credit: Vodafone

Looking further

The UK’s technology sector has a “worrying” lack of diversity, a report released last year showed, with the sector lagging far behind the FTSE 100 and the wider economy on gender, race and class representation.

And like many other countries, it is also finding it increasingly difficult to source the talent needed to drive the startup and technology ecosystems.

This is why Vodafone and other organisations are updating their HR policies to accept graduates with a 2:2 (in the UK) or equivalent – focusing on a candidate’s digital skills and potential instead.

They’re not alone – Deloitte, PwC, and Sky, as well as a number of other companies, have changed their requirements in recent years.

Jacqueline Field, head of group resourcing at Vodafone, says she wants to attract a wider range of talent.

“We wanted to change the dynamic by hiring for potential, rather than academic grades,” she says.

“I think people are asking businesses to change the way they do business, to be more sustainable and inclusive and more supportive of communities.”

Alice Aspdin, who also works at Vodafone, says the organisation wants to lead by example.

“We have a responsibility,” she says. “We’re looking for personality traits like learnability and digital curiosity. Then we can teach [candidates] hard skills once they’ve joined.”


Different strokes

Vodafone has also set up a number of initiatives to attract a wider pool of candidates.

First there’s the Future Jobs Finder, which offers young people a way to gain new skills and employment in tech.

Vodafone’s #CodeLikeAGirl programme encourages girls to get involved in STEM subjects, reaching over 3,000 around the world.

Meanwhile the UK digital creators challenge, run by Vodafone, Teach First, Hopscotch and Apps for Good, invites young people to work together to design apps to improve their local communities.

Coding Tomorrow in Turkey is one of a number of Vodafone’s projects in different markets. To help tackle the digital divide in the country, a truck drives to rural areas giving children aged 7-14 free training in coding and robotics.

Schemes like these are welcomed by young people in the industry.

Natalie, an electronic engineer who prefers to remain anonymous, says she missed out on a 2:1 at university and doesn’t want to tell employers about it because she worries it’ll hold her back.

“I’m the first in my family to go to uni. I was the only woman on my course and had to take time away from my studies to look after a dying family member,” she says.

“When I got a third I just wanted the world to eat me up.”

Natalie thinks lowering grade requirements will help companies to attract more people like her into the sector.


Richie McIlroy works at the Co-op as a front-end engineer after doing an apprenticeship. He didn’t go to university.

“What should be important is that you’re passionate and eager to learn,” he says.

“There are plenty of talented people I know who didn’t go onto higher education. Having a well balanced team is important because it allows people of all backgrounds and perhaps different cultures to work together and collaborate.”

James Jackson got a 2:2 in his degree and now works for a tech startup.

“Most companies wouldn’t have considered me for my current role [because of my 2:2], but now I’ve done it I’ve shown I’m capable,” he says.

“I definitely think [lowering academic entry requirements] would help from a diversity perspective and bring a wider variety of skills to the table. I think it’s great that companies are looking past your typical university graduate with a 2:1.”

For Annabelle Akintoye, her career at Vodafone is going well. She is currently working as a cyber-security specialist.

“I love my job. I didn’t think I would enjoy work as much as I do,” she says. “And I love working in tech because it’s always changing. No two days are the same.”

She’s proof employees can thrive, regardless of their academic grades.

“I’m very proud of the work I’ve done,” she says. “I think it would help if tech companies were more diverse.”

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