The challenge of identifying and retaining talent is a make-or-break game for companies in the UK’s tech industry. In a sector where the strength of a company’s product or service often rests on the brilliance of its employees, talent is strongly sought after.
The relative newness of the skill set and fast growth of the industry means that the talent pool is still quite small and is more often than not lured toward the bright lights and international opportunity offered by London and the glamour and excitement of hubs like Silicon Roundabout.
As a result, there is a strong argument to say that in the tech industry talent war, regionally-based entrepreneurs and start-ups have the odds stacked up against them. Not only are they based outside the central hub where tech talent converges, but the task of recruiting top people normally involves persuading them to shift their home as well as their job.
As well as having to fight this battle on the recruitment front, there is also the challenge of retaining the best talent, especially younger staff; convincing them of the benefits of staying where they are rather than chasing success elsewhere. However, the real question here is not how serious is this challenge, but rather what is it that regional businesses can do to overcome it?
Recruitment – farming talent instead of fishing for it
Regardless of location, for entrepreneurs, breaking the mould and disrupting the norm is often the passion point that drives business success. Technology businesses that succeed in the regions are those who apply this thinking and innovation not only to their product offering, but also to their broader approach to business.
Lack of proximity to the bigger business hubs and talent pools of capital cities should not present a barrier for regional businesses. Instead, it should be a driver for smarter, more creative thinking about recruitment, training and retention to policies to overcome the deficiencies.
When it comes to securing the best talent that will help deliver success and growth, regional businesses must look beyond the pool of existing professionals and available talent.
In an industry like technology, which is very much still in its infancy, it is the young talent driving innovation, not the long established business leaders who may be more set in their ways. These young professionals have the contemporary skill-sets and appetite for change that drives them to learn on the go, approaching problems with new solutions and thinking. For this reason, regional technology businesses should be looking to invest their time and money into growing and nurturing talent from beyond the pool of established talent on offer from recruiters.
More on recruitment in technology sector:
- Recruitment and funding flagged as issues for tech start-ups
- Hiring through video
- The Bounty Network approach to hiring
There is an increasing effort being made by technology industry groups to engage the younger generation in the opportunities a career in tech holds. However, for this to be truly successful, businesses need to become heavily involved sharing their expertise and vision for what is possible in the industry, both financially and professionally, to inspire young people to get involved.
Code Club is an example of an initiative that is successfully delivering this vision to the talent of tomorrow. Working with corporate partners, like Postcode Anywhere, and local schools, Code Club runs over 2,000 after-school coding classes for children aged between the age of 9 and 12. This kind of work equips children with the skills they need to succeed in tomorrow’s professional world while at the same time demonstrating the exciting things local tech businesses are achieving in their area, reinforcing that a career in tech doesn’t have to mean a move to London.
But this kind of thinking should also be applied for young staff internally as well as for future talent. By putting in place learning, training and mentoring programmes that identify top young talent and provide them with the right support mechanisms, both from within the business and across the industry, employers can develop channels through which young staff can consistently inject new thinking and creativity into the business. This is not only beneficial for the company, but ensures that top talent remains engaged and passionate and is rewarded professionally for doing so.
Offering a share of the stakes
More often than not, what drives individuals to move jobs is ambition – a burning desire to undertake a role that challenges them both intellectually and professionally, and rewards them sufficiently for their success. In reality, few employers actually manage to tick both of these boxes, failing to identify either what truly drives employees, or sufficiently foster ambition by incentivising success.
This is by no means a failing that is limited to the technology industry and there have been a number of initiatives introduced to help business leaders across the board better incentivise ambition and success.
One such initiative is the government’s Enterprise Management Incentive (EMI) scheme which allows business leaders to motivate staff by offering generous tax incentives to encourage wider share ownership in the business. The benefit of this is that as well as seeding an entrepreneurial passion for success across the wider employee base, it also creates a persuading driver for employees to stick with the business for longer.
There is no doubt that London remains a magnetic attraction for a lot of the UK’s leading tech talent, but times are changing. Whether it be in the technology industry or otherwise, businesses are becoming wiser to the financial and operational benefits of being based in the UK’s regional cities.
As this force of regional job opportunity grows and London property prices become increasingly unsustainable, the nation’s leading talent will soon follow suit. But to make this happen, regional business leaders must extend their underlying creativity and appetite for innovation outside their products, and apply it to their talent recruitment and retention practices. This will be the key to cementing the nation’s future as an innovation hub, rather than this reputation continuing to be restricted to the capital.