Yorkshire tech firms still struggling to recruit

Skills shortages remain the primary difficulty facing tech firms in the region amid calls for greater promotion of coding skills and bringing more women into the sector.

Date: 27th June 2019. Picture James Hardisty. Business Breakfast event roundtable on technology held at Womble Bond Dickinson, 1 Whitehall Rd, Riverside, Leeds.

A gathering of senior personnel from some of the region’s top digital firms heard how the teaching of software programming and associated abilities was still not being given enough attention in the school system and that careers advice was still not doing enough to attract female entrants to the tech sector.

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Date: 27th June 2019. Picture James Hardisty. Business Breakfast event roundtable on technology held at Womble Bond Dickinson, 1 Whitehall Rd, Riverside, Leeds.

The matters were raised at a roundtable discussion organised by law firm Womble Bond Dickinson in conjunction with The Yorkshire Post, which also looked at how tech firms can raise funds and what role professional services can play.

Mark Cowgill, director at Exa Networks, said: “For us it is not the transport, it is the skill shortages. The whole city region is a victim of its own success.

“You have had so many digital tech players and companies, just within 200 yards of here, who are all trying to get the same coders and all trying to get the same developers.

“You have got some really big players who can pay sizably more than other companies.”

He was backed up by Chris Reed of Another Trail, who said: “I go to a lot of these tech events and the first thing you got was people talking about how they had all these vacancies. What I don’t see is the promotion of education of people to be coders. Everywhere I go in Leeds, people are short of coders. Yet I look around and I don’t see the promotion of how to code.”

The importance of education in the development of these skills was seen as paramount during the discussion, with newer and less traditional forms of teaching and development highlighted as the best means of pushing young people into the sector. Mark Goldstone, head of policy at Leeds Chamber of Commerce, talked about his involvement with the University Training College in Leeds and how it had seen that often students were learning more from each other and working in a co-operative manner.

“They were working together and alongside the teachers,” he said.  

“They were mentoring each other. Of all the things that businesses tell us they want in terms of skills they say they want people with the right attitudes and the desire to solve problems. Sometimes that does not get reflected in secondary education.”

Developing the education system was also identified by participants as the best means to attract a more diverse workforce.

Kirsten Brumfitt, vice president of Leeds-based online security firm Crisp, said: “We are a little bit late to the party in terms of addressing it now. You need to get in earlier. There is still a stereotype when it comes to careers advice.”

Access to funding and how professional services adapt to models employed in the tech sector was also analysed.

Julian Hamblin, Womble Bond Dickinson’s head of the firm’s technology sector, said: “A lot of the companies looking for investment do get taken advantage of because they are caught in a vicious circle.

“They can’t afford the legal advice until they get the funding. One of the things we have done quite recently is to try and unlock that. 

“We as professional services providers, accountants or lawyers, have obviously got to innovate and adapt so we can support our clients of the future.”