Yorkshire tech firms need to be aware of circling competition - Ismail Mulla

Speaking to technology firms over the past five years or so, the one thing that kept cropping up was the skills gap and access to talent.

Leeds has a vibrant tech sector that is underpinned by a collaborative spirit.

In recent years both the industry and education has tried really hard to bridge that gap. The sector has also done its best to stem the brain drain to London.

You only need to look at the coding academies that have made Yorkshire their home to see the progress that was being made. On top of that, you had vibrant co-working hubs bringing like-minded tech start-ups together.

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Then coronavirus came along and put a spanner in the works. But as we begin to slowly emerge from this nightmare, tech firms are going to have to be more alert than ever when it comes to retaining talent.

The switch to homeworking has changed expectations for employees. The idea of being chained to a desk in an office, nine-to-five, is now out of the window. I recently spoke to a web developer who decided to leave his job after the company that he worked at signalled that it’s intention was to bring everyone back to office working once the situation normalises.

The pandemic had made him re-evaluate what was important to him and getting up at the crack of dawn to commute an hour each way wasn’t it. Especially when he could spend that time with his children.

Instead, his services were snapped up by a Manchester-based business that was offering remote working.

Sarah Pawson, who runs technology recruitment firm Fruition IT, says that London-based tech firms are looking to build out remote teams in the regions. Yorkshire tech firms would do well to notice that firms based in the capital are circling.

The fact that tech giant Sky Betting & Gaming has already sounded alarm bells over its top talent being poached should be of concern to the whole sector.

Conor Grant, CEO of Flutter Group’s UK and Ireland division, which includes Sky Bet, told our business editor Mark Casci that firms in the capital offering London wages and full remote working to its Yorkshire staff was a “live threat”.

He added: “We have got to be creative about how we meet the needs of our current employees and prospective employees.

“There is a very live threat to us and we need to be mindful of it.”

What bodes well for the sector is that it was probably the most adept at making the switch to remote working at such a short notice in March 2020.

However, taking a dogmatic approach one way or another would be ill-advised. Any firms thinking of ditching office space altogether may find themselves in for a rude awakening. Just as there are many people within the sector content to work from home there are those that desperately pine for a return to office working. Then there are those that would like the flexibility to do both.

I’m sure the majority of workers will understand the need for them to be present in the office for certain tasks. Even those making the jump to businesses based outside the region know that they may need to hop on to the train for the odd day in the office.

Ultimately, if London-based tech firms are swooping for talent in the North with promises of big salaries then firms, certainly in the immediate future, will have to brace themselves for a rise in staffing costs.

In the medium term, it comes back to that age-old problem of supply. The more people that can be skilled up, the easier it will be. It doesn’t just come down to brass tacks or even where someone works from. It’s also about culture, connectivity and collaboration. Take Leeds for example. It has a vibrant tech sector that is underpinned by a collaborative spirit.

Tech firms based here have that as an advantage over a London-based giant looking to simply plug into resources in the North as if it were drilling for oil. Businesses will need to ensure they have a working culture which makes people want to be a part of it.

Finally, Yorkshire’s cities have such a stronger social offer. Unfortunately, that is countered by a public transport system that needs immediate attention.

There are many who will not fancy packing onto a train like sardines, paying hundreds of pounds for the privilege, only for them to be late to their destination every morning.

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James Mitchinson