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Will London start-ups always be more attractive to the best tech talent?

Brian Matthews, The Candidate

Brian Matthews, Managing Partner of The Candidate, says London is losing its position as the default choice for tech talent – with Manchester and the North more generally skyrocketing as a digital hub.

And with working from home, cost of living, and the work/life balance more topical than ever, it’s no wonder people are looking beyond the capital city for opportunities.

The Candidate is sponsoring this year’s Prolific North Top 75 Tech & eCommerce Companies, which will be revealed at a dedicated dinner in November 2021. 


London, due to its sheer size and scale, has traditionally dominated the UK technology scene.

However, Manchester was recently named the fastest-growing tech hub in the UK, boasting a digital turnover of over £4 billion, and is fast becoming the number-one destination for tech start-ups to base their new ventures.

Venture capital investment in the area last year alone was a whopping £500 million, helped in part in the North West by a wealth of Private Equity companies such as Palatine, Living Edge and North Edge.

Recruitment and talent attraction has been a challenge for the whole community due to the shortage of digital candidates, but it has been a key focus of many organisations to address the issue. The city has benefitted from trade bodies and communities such as Manchester Digital, Tech Nation and the MPA who have run initiatives to help close the gap.

That gap has been closing over the last few years, with further support from local universities and attractive brands investing in people, benefits, and quality of life to complement what Manchester has to offer. More work will be needed due to the accelerated move to online as a result of the pandemic, but Manchester is well-placed to deal with this.

London will always have its capital-city life pull, but we’re seeing an increased number of candidates choosing to relocate North on the search for affordable housing, competitive salaries and a shorter commute.

The trend towards working from home while being within a reasonable distance of the office makes the city a key destination. Combine that with the entrepreneurial spirit the city oozes and the plethora of new tech start-ups, and you have the perfect mix and an ideal work/life balance.

The critical employer brand

Start-ups and businesses on the cusp of scaling are absent of the critical employer brand requirement to attract the best talent. They are rightfully consumed by the day-to-day of running their business and growing it to the point of scale.

It’s at this point that employment agencies like us support start-ups that haven’t and can’t promote their business effectively to prospective candidates to recruit for their job opportunities and how great they are. We speak directly to candidates, both active and passive, about all opportunities equally, which is effective in the absence of employer brands.

We are well-connected in the North West and therefore are able to advise businesses new to the region looking to recruit multiple roles across all digital channels, giving insight into the likelihood of successfully recruiting and being realistic with timescales.

Candidates are now being spoilt for choice with most tech companies, whether North or South, having a trendy office, dog, beer fridge, ping pong, duvet days and the offer of remote working.

The motivation for people to move to these companies tends to go beyond the day-to-day responsibilities of the role. Rather, it’s influenced by the company’s ethos and ambition.

In addition, the smarter start-ups are selling more than the dream, they are constructing progression plans, training manuals, development objectives and informing their staff on how they see their career progressing within that organisation. It’s critical that no start-up takes talent for granted – but work closely and openly with employment partners to secure the best talent for your team.

Remote working

The one challenge Manchester and other digital hubs will face after COVID is remote working.

As brands based in London – previously inaccessible due to location – introduce remote working, they will effectively be competing with the whole of the UK for talent. It may work in reverse, where people will ask why they need to sit in their one-bed flat in London when they could head North and live in a comfortable 3-bed with the same quality of life.

But with working from the office predicted to return, or at least increase over the next two years, now would be a great time for candidates to plan for that specific area of normality. It’s also worth noting that tech start-ups in the region can afford significantly better office space to satisfy those employees working in the office than their counterparts in the capital.

In the last month alone, we’ve placed five relocators from the South, who’ve moved for a variety of reasons including family commitments, a desire to reduce travel, moving to a bigger home, and the fact they got a job in thriving Manchester. COVID has made people assess their lives and been a catalyst for some candidates to move to the North.

The growing digital community in the North has meant that people are no longer thinking that they absolutely need to move to London to get a job working with a cutting-edge cool brand. Manchester is imploding with exciting businesses that are looking to recruit talent.

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