Overview of the IT sector in the UK

Dan Mason, Senior editor
September, 2017

Skills shortages in key areas of the digital economy mean there are many different IT careers available for graduates with relevant qualifications and experience

What areas of IT can I work in?

Types of work available in the IT sector include:

  • applications development
  • computer forensics
  • content management
  • cyber security and risk management
  • data analysis and analytics
  • game development
  • geographical information systems (GIS)
  • hardware engineering
  • information management
  • IT consultancy (business and technical)
  • IT sales
  • multimedia programming
  • software engineering (designing, building, developing and testing)
  • systems/network management
  • technical support
  • telecommunications
  • web design/development.

Your job could involve creating applications or systems, solving problems with technology or supporting people who use it. Employers in the IT industry also require graduates in areas such as business, marketing, human resources (HR) and finance.

Meanwhile, many IT professionals work outside the sector, for example in the IT departments of retail, finance, manufacturing and public sector organisations.

For examples of job roles in this sector, see graduate jobs in IT.

Who are the main graduate employers?

Large companies in the IT sector include:

  • Accenture
  • Apple
  • Capgemini
  • Cisco
  • Cognizant
  • FDM
  • Fujitsu
  • Google
  • IBM
  • Infosys
  • Microsoft
  • Rockstar Games
  • Softcat
  • Ubisoft.

Major telecommunications companies include:

  • BT
  • EE
  • Sky UK
  • TalkTalk
  • Telefónica O2 UK
  • Three
  • Virgin Media
  • Vodafone.

The sector is fast-moving and dynamic, meaning there are many smaller companies and tech start-ups that are worth seeking out for job opportunities. For example, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the IT industry provide a range of specialist services and often offer consultancy and technical roles.

Other sectors that employ significant numbers of IT professionals include:

  • Financial services - for example companies such as Barclays, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan and Morgan Stanley.
  • Manufacturing - multinational engineering companies in the oil, pharmaceuticals, automotive and energy industries.
  • Public sector - local authorities, central government and the NHS.
  • Retail - major online and high street retailers such as Amazon, Arcadia, Tesco, TJX Europe and John Lewis.

Routes into the IT industry include graduate schemes, apprenticeships and internships. Find out how to get an IT job.

What's it like working in the sector?

Graduates entering the industry can expect:

  • An average starting salary - according to High Fliers' The Graduate Market in 2017 report, starting salaries in IT are the same as the national median of £30,000.
  • Long working hours - employers tend to emphasise completing a task or project over maintaining standard 9am-5pm office hours.
  • Opportunities to work abroad - many large IT companies have branches or subsidiaries in other countries.
  • The chance to be self-employed - it is not unusual for graduates to go freelance, work as a contractor or even start their own tech companies.
  • A constantly changing industry - as new technologies and software are developed, it's important to keep your IT training current to impress employers.

The Dice Job Market Report 2017 provides an overview of what it's like working in IT and the skills that employers are looking for. This survey of 1,200 UK tech professionals and 170 recruiters showed that:

  • Of permanent employees in IT roles, 83% worked in the private sector and 17% worked in the public sector.
  • IT professionals were most likely to be employed in the finance and banking (11%), software products (11%), telecommunications (9%) and consulting (7%) industries.
  • Nearly a third of IT professionals worked in support roles (32%), compared with 17% in project management, 16% in development and 8% in consultancy.
  • Nine in every ten permanent employees in IT are men. The industry's efforts to close the gender gap include the Tomorrow's Tech Leaders Today careers fair for female students and graduates.
  • Among those surveyed, 36% earned between £20,000 and £40,000, the most common salary band.
  • Recruiters said the most important elements of a CV were professional experience (37%), previous companies (20%) and CV presentation (13%). Find out how to create a technical CV for IT jobs.
  • The top skills that recruiters searched for were the C and Java programming languages and the .Net software framework.

To find out more about typical salaries and working conditions in your chosen career, see graduate jobs in IT.

What are the key issues in the IT sector?

The growth of the digital economy and the emergence of new technologies has led to skills shortages and increased demand for graduates with the right qualifications.

There are particular skills shortages in areas such as cyber security, with companies and public sector organisations increasingly prioritising the protection of their data against malicious threats or accidental loss.

The Cybersecurity: Protecting your future report, published in July 2016 by recruitment firm Robert Half, revealed that 77% of UK chief information officers (CIOs) believed the security threat would grow because of a shortage of talent. Just over a third said they would hire additional permanent security staff.

In February 2017 Tech Partnership, the sector skills council, found that there were 7,000 advertised vacancies for cyber security professionals in the UK between the third quarter of 2015 and the second quarter of 2016 - an increase of 18% on the previous year and more than 100% higher than five years ago.

The most commonly advertised roles were security analysts, security consultants, security engineers, security managers and security architects. Employers look for candidates with relevant certifications such as CISSP. See cyber security and GCHQ-certified degrees for more information about routes into this field.

According to another study by Tech Partnership, developers are also highly sought after by recruiters, accounting for more than a quarter of all digital jobs advertised.

Meanwhile the Tech Cities Job Watch for the second quarter of 2017, published by Experis, highlights big data, cloud, IT security, mobile and web development as the key growth areas. For example, demand for cloud skills increased 98% over the previous year.

Getting qualifications and training in the skills that employers are looking for is great way to improve your chances of securing a job. Find out about IT training.