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Sumo Group on developing the next generation of gaming leaders across the North

Jenny Sumo Group

Sheffield-headquartered Sumo Group is on a mission to tackle the games industry’s urgent need to level up its next generation of leaders, with the launch of its new career programme.

Evolve, based on Sumo’s internal emerging talent programme, is a free initiative designed to equip any experienced developers with leadership and management skills needed to secure top positions in the games sector.

“If we want to grow the industry to help it flourish, we also need a pipeline of leaders that are going to be able to make that happen,” Jenny Muhlwa, Learning & Development Partner Consultant at Sumo Group, tells Prolific North.

The programme will be delivered through a series of virtual workshops run by the Sumo Group Learning & Development team, as well as experienced Sumo developers in leadership positions.

“It will be available to everyone across the UK but we’re really interested in those from the North, being a Northern based company.”

Sumo Group, a video games company founded in 2003, now has around 800 staff spread across its Northern sites in Sheffield, Nottingham, Newcastle, Warrington and at Redkite Games.

Now, a big ambition is to plug those senior skills gaps to support the wider industry.

“One of the hardest roles to fill within the industry is a senior or a lead role. There’s a real shortage of people at that level and there’s a crazy amount of experience needed in order to be able to do that,” she explains.

“We realised, why don’t we build these skills before people need them when leading a team, vision or project. They can practice all of those things before they might go into that role. It’s starting to shorten that gap and these really hard to fill roles will become easier because we’re growing with talent across the region.”

With the emergence of GameChangers in Liverpool, an industry initiative launched at the end of 2023 to help the next generation break into the gaming sector, could the North benefit from a more joined up approach when it comes to games talent at all levels?

By tapping into other Sumo studios and different levels of experiences, those on the programme will benefit from a “collaborative, joint approach”.

“We wanted to make the programme free, so there wasn’t a barrier. We’re also bringing in mentors from different studios, so whilst the learning and development team are based in Sheffield, as an example, Sumo Newcastle is one of the mentors.”

From imposter syndrome to anxiety, stepping into a managerial role can be “one of the most stressful times” for staff. That’s why a big part of the programme is designed around myth-busting around these challenges potential senior leaders may be worried about.

“It’s so important that people feel like they can step into this role with confidence. So that collaborative approach of being with other people on the program across the region is also really important, not just the teaching of the skills.”

So where did the idea come from to open the career development programme out to other games studios and how will the programme work?

It stems from Sumo’s own internal career development programme, following an idea emerging from one of its studio directors.

“Sumo Newcastle and Sumo Leamington came to us and said: ‘We really want to be able to help develop our people. But they aren’t sure if it’s the right career path for them so we want to equip them with skills now ahead of time, so that they can start to practice before managing people or leading a team.”

It led to a pilot with over 100 people on the programme across all of Sumo Group, not just for those based in the UK, but internationally too. After attending an industry event around learning and development across games, a big theme emerged around the skills gap to train talent into senior or lead positions.

“The discussion was around the industry needing more leads and seniors, as those that are starting to retire were asking: ‘what are we doing as a profession to support that?’ There’s a real need here.”

Following a successful pilot programme, Sumo Group is now opening its Evolve programme to staff across any games company who have at least five years of game development experience and may now be pondering their next career move.

“If they’re thinking about it, this programme is for them because they’re already thinking about that route to leading a project or team.”

Despite rife competition across the games industry when it comes to talent, she explains why Sumo Group is opening the programme out to staff across other games companies.

“Making our programme available to the whole industry can really help level up skills to create an even better industry, better games, and better places to work. So, that’s what we’ve done.

“When there’s something good to share that has really made a difference, and can really help a lot of people, why would you keep that then to yourself? It’s not the full programme we have internally, which also compromises of coaching and mentoring, what we have done is tailored it to make it available to staff across other companies.”

As for the future of the programme, she hopes there will be more recognition of the importance of soft skills, not just technical skills.

“I hope it becomes something that is taken a little bit more seriously than it probably is right now.,” she explains. “There needs to be an understanding that in order to create great leadership and great games, this is sometimes the hidden source.”

To find out more visit the Evolve website.

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