Review: Prolific North Tech Award Winners’ Roundtable - Tech skills shortage in the North

Rachael Hesno's picture
by Rachael Hesno
Roundtable tech

Tech industry leaders from across the North gathered at a recent roundtable to explore how tech businesses can attempt to overcome a tech talent skills shortage.

Winners from the Prolific North Tech Awards, which was held in October, joined a roundtable event on December 7th to discuss the current situation within the Northern tech sector, sourcing good tech staff and recruitment tactics to entice new employees.

They delved into the types of perks and working conditions likely to have helped to attract staff in their own businesses, the Northern powerhouse and initiatives to attract and retain tech talent in the North. 

The event was held in association with Verlingue, associate sponsor at the Tech Awards. 

Chaired by David Prior, Editor of Prolific North

Attendees:

  • Mark Robinson, Sales Director, Verlingue
  • Anna Maxwell, CEO and Founder, Maxwellia
  • Ramzan Anwar, Managing Director, G6 MOCO
  • Nick Reid, Sales Executive, BankiFi
  • Lucy Moore, Associate Director, Refresh PR
  • Melissa Hendry, Co-founder and Managing Director, Ddroidd

How does a tech business solve a problem like a skills shortage?

Following networking and breakfast, David Prior (Prolific North) congratulated and welcomed the winners from the Prolific North Tech Awards, which was hosted at Manchester’s Science and Industry Museum in October. He also thanked the Tech Awards’ Associate Sponsor and host of the roundtable event, Verlingue.

Tech roundtable

Mark Robinson of Verlingue introduced himself and explained how the insurance broker and employee benefits business looks after tech companies and start-ups. He said to get the best talent through the doors in the tech sector, it isn’t just about salary anymore. 

David Prior (Prolific North) asked attendees about their own experiences in terms of recruiting talent within their companies. 

Melissa Hendry (Ddroidd) explained it is a slightly saturated market at the moment especially when looking for developers. Doubling of salaries, especially for specific skill-sets and seniority, is prevalent in the industry yet nearshoring or outsourcing for a project in the short-term can be an option.

At G6 MOCO, Ramzan Anwar said it is incredibly hard to find the right people in a niche area. He explained how at his own company, it is only one of two tech companies that requires a need for both robotics and film experience. With new hires, the way he tackles this is by “starting from scratch” and bringing someone in from the film industry to train them up on the technical side. 

For Lucy Moore (Refresh PR), she said the agency works with tech businesses and can see how hard it is for them to recruit. Refresh PR focuses on recruiting individuals with the drive to do the job, personality and culture fit, and then later on, teach the technical aspects of the job. 

Anna Maxwell (Maxwellia) said similarly to Ramzan, in a specialist industry it can be more difficult to find people who have the particular skills needed. The healthtech company wants to support the Northern powerhouse and recruit locally but with much of the resources based in the south, particularly in the health sector, it makes it difficult. To combat this, taking on placement students and utilising the homegrown route and training up local skilled talent will be lucrative, she said. 

At BankiFi, Nick Reid said the fintech company has recruited across a wide range of roles. The company also utilises a homegrown policy and develops talent by working with graduates. Within fintech, he believes there will be a rise in those in tech choosing to work for themselves on a consultancy basis to work on projects for short amounts of time to keep things fresh. 

Tech roundtable

Attracting talent and the Northern powerhouse

David (Prolific North) asked if there were any challenges posed by the competitive nature of companies offering incentives like big salaries to attract tech talent.

Lucy (Refresh PR) explained how major investment in Manchester is attracting lots of large companies, which are now setting up second offices or headquarters in the North. It can pose a challenge for start-ups or SMEs as smaller companies are unable to match the same high salaries being offered to tech talent, who might be swayed by the larger companies.

Melissa (Ddroidd) said that although big companies in London have remote working policies in place, they will hire from the North as it's historically cheaper to hire and developers are attracted by some of the big names in the industry. Despite this, those in the tech industry want exciting projects and variety, so often the lure for working at a start-up is that it might be working on a ‘cool’ or ‘cutting-edge’ project.

Nick (BankiFi) referred back to culture. He said you lose count looking on LinkedIn at the number of recruiters talking about counter-offers but queried what this tells you about the culture of that company. 

Mark (Verlingue) said he works with Pro Manchester on its fintech committee and a regular topic on the agenda is on the recruitment problem and the skills gap. He said there are highly talented, specialised individuals graduating from universities in Manchester but the challenge is keeping them in the North. They are attracted by big salaries in the south, so it shouldn’t be about how to get people with the skills into Manchester, it's about how do we keep the people already here and encourage them to stay.

Deciding to build his company in the North despite much of his industry work based in London, Ramzan (G6 MOCO) said the government has provided grants to reward businesses if they shift towards working within the North and use local talent, particularly within the film sector. He said he started from ‘zero’ and often decides on hiring based on those who deserve a chance in life. It isn’t always about the money, he added.

Fresh graduates out of university are looking for senior guidance and assess how they will grow their career in a business, added Melissa (Ddroidd). While businesses won’t be able to tick all their boxes, for a technical person or developer, they will be looking at the culture and how they will grow within it. 

The pandemic and rise in hybrid working has potentially caused a shift in people more open to move, said Anna (Maxwellia). Making a company desirable and selling the company and what the benefits are is key to attracting talent. 

Tech roundtable

Tapping into the benefits of hybrid and remote working to attract staff

Melissa (Ddroidd) said nearshoring and offshoring is predominantly cheaper as you can build an entire team with a wide variety of skill-sets while you ‘get your feet under the table’ as a start-up. She explained how she is the only member of staff based in Leeds, with the rest of the team based in Ddroidd’s office in Romania. 

Nick (BankiFi) said hybrid working policies are often attractive to potential candidates, similar to BankiFi. He said he splits his time between the office and home which works well for him as he has a young family. Little things such as allowing staff to log off early on a Friday if they’ve finished their work is a great incentive. For more junior members, it works on trust, good line management and a close team. 

At Refresh PR, Lucy said the agency also has a hybrid working policy. Younger people or those living alone are more keen to come into the office. For a graduate, especially in the creative field, seeing how senior members of staff operate can help them to progress faster. People like being in the office, especially when someone has landed a great piece of coverage - it generates a buzz and excitement which isn’t the same when remote working. 

Ramzan (G6 MOCO) is based at production space The Sharp Project and said the great thing about being a start-up is being able to mix with other industry professionals in the building. Being able to meet people in person and find advice is useful. 

Anna (Maxwellia) added that her team have just moved into new premises and operate a hybrid working policy which she prefers, as she finds working from home can make it difficult to switch off. 

For Ddroidd, Melissa said it is important to build culture which comes from the top. She finds at Ddroidd most people want to work from home, and although she likes the quiet time at home finds that talking to the screen isn’t the same. 

Anna (Maxwellia) said it can be difficult to get to know people online through a screen. She believes the human connection has been lost and the spontaneity of things that happen in working environments which you don’t get when working remotely. 

Tech roundtable

Perks and benefits

From an insurance perspective, Mark (Verlingue) said if you're recruiting staff and flexible working isn’t offered - you have no chance of attracting staff. In terms of talent acquisition, lots of businesses are slotting flexible working in as a top benefit. The businesses that have retained staff are able to bring in new talent through referral from existing staff. 

On the benefits at Ddroidd, Melissa said perks include free healthcare and gym membership, food vouchers when employees come into the offices, extra bank holidays and allowing each member of staff a day off each month to do personal development. 

Nick (BankiFi) said it is interesting how perks are now more driven towards those that are more tricky to measure. At BankiFi, a perk is a strong culture and flat management structure as everyone in the company is encouraged to come forward and voice any opinions.

While at G6 MOCO, Ramzan said he always stocks up the office with treats for the team and takes them on staff team-building days. If employees want to work from home they can, as long as the work is done. On flexible working, he said employees take it upon themselves to leave early if they start early or leave late if they start later on in the day. He consults with staff for major decisions for the business to include everyone in the conversation. 

Mark (Verlingue) explained that businesses can defend against competitors with big salaries if they can offer incentives such as good culture and including employees in decision-making. He said it is a great retention tool to have. 

Lucy (Refresh PR) agreed that including employees in decision-making is key. She added that while perks are important, no amount of free things such as free yoga classes and gym membership will help if employees believe they are working in an awful place. 

Anna (Maxwellia) added that employee incentives can include share options schemes, to include employees in the success of the company. She added that you need to put some energy behind attracting and retaining the right talent. She found the approach through the screen process of allowing a candidate to meet the team and get to know everyone is successful.

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