Yorkshire firms struggle to find the talent they need for growth – claim

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Yorkshire SMEs are struggling to recruit the talent they need to scale-up, an entrepreneur-led group has advised.

Speaking at a Connect Yorkshire event held in Leeds at BigChange, one of the UK’s fastest growing tech companies, entrepreneurs discussed the challenges they face to recruit and retain staff.

With a number of digital business leaders present, tech was described as a prominent industry struggling to recruit talented developers.

Anthony Main, MD of app developers The Distance advised that even when you’ve found, interviewed and offered successful candidates a job, they are frequently retained following a significant counter-offer being made by their existing employers.

Recruitment firm The Works’ MD Craig Burton advised against employers offering counter offers. He said: “The employee has already made up their mind to move on and we see these people who accept a counter offer leave within the next six months. It becomes difficult to maintain a strong working relationship between the employer and employee once their notice has been handed in as the trust is gone.”

But Craig advised that money is only the seventh reason for staff leaving. “Teams are far more motivated by culture and finding the right fit for your company needs to be paramount.” Steve Sykes, MD at Applied Digital agreed: “As a service-based business, getting the right people is important.”

Jonny Phillips, director of headoffice3 commented that team perks such as regular socials and ping pong tables were once a great motivator but so many tech firms do this now it is harder to stand out against the competition. “Non-digital firms need to catch up with this. There is such demand for talented tech recruits these employers are going above and beyond.” Phillips advised.

Martin Port, founder and CEO of BigChange has led his seven-year-old firm to experience 85% growth year-on-year with an impressive 97% retention rate in staff. He puts this down to truly valuing his team and ensuring employees are happy, healthy and engaged.

Martin advised that creating a family environment is important for a company like BigChange; “Having sold my first business, I’m now in a position to cherry-pick the good people to join me. Treat people right and they will follow you in your next venture.”

Ellie MacDonald, founder and managing director of MacComms advised that her three-year old PR agency has experienced a lot of interest from students and graduates following the communication of MacComms’ brand values and the underlying ethos to create a successful business based on treating people right. “We may not be able to pay the highest salaries right now but what we can do is guarantee a fun environment where employees will be treated with respect and only work with people they like. Whether it is a member of staff, a supplier or client, we will let them go if they do not fit with our brand values.”

Melanie Parker has experienced life on both sides of the recruiter / employer debate and has now set up Graft Talent specialising in recruiting graduates.
She explains how there is a wider problem with the recruitment industry and that the entire sector needs to slow down. “How we recruit people is too knee-jerk right now. We need to take time to recruit for the best fit; good talent is hard to find.”

The impact of Brexit was debated, with Anthony’s concern that the move from Europe will put more strain on the tech industry where there is already a lack of local talent. “The UK will struggle to engage students to study digital-focused degrees in British universities where European courses are more advanced. Countries such as Spain include options to hone in on specialisms and focus their degrees on mobile development, for example.”

Melanie added: “Universities will have no incentive to get European students here to study following Brexit. Their efforts will be focused on more global students who are far more profitable which means we’re likely to lose some great European talent.”

Martin Port educated the group about a youth apprenticeship scheme. “We need to train up home grown talent from a young age, utilising initiatives such as Team Tech.” Craig Burton added “It isn’t enough to speak to students about their careers at 14 years old, that’s too late. We should be speaking to them in primary school, especially girls who should be encouraged more into STEM.”

BigChange and Connect Yorkshire, the not-for-profit membership group for entrepreneurs wishing to grow their businesses, hosted the roundtable event.
BigChange is a long-standing member of Connect Yorkshire and the partnership has seen BigChange onboard six customers via the membership organisation with a deal value total over £1m.

The event was attended by owner managers from some of the region’s most successful companies, who were Entrepreneurs in Residence, partners and members of Connect Yorkshire, and chaired by Connect Yorkshire chief executive Nick Butler.