Roundtable: Tech Talent in a Post Covid World

This article originally appeared on the TechSPARK website.

As we emerge from the grips of the pandemic, it’s clear that our employment and working landscape has changed significantly.

While local companies were already having difficulties in recruiting Tech Talent, the combination of Brexit and the different working practises brought on by Covid has meant that it is even more of a candidate driven market than before.

Our Autumn Roundtable, in conjunction with ADLIB, brought together some of the top businesses in the region to talk about how the talent shortage has affected them, and what successes they are seeing in addressing it.

In attendance :-

  1. Alex Cosgrove, Head of Data Insight and Analytics, ADLIB (Hosting)
  2. Andy Hickman, Head of Consultancy, Scott Logic
  3. Conrad Jackson, Head of Software Development, Moneyhub
  4. Hugo Maule, Digital Transformation Programme Manager, Malvern Panalytical
  5. Lee Berry, Head of Product, Huboo
  6. Matt Hinks, Recruitment Business Partner, Hargreaves Lansdowne
  7. Shannon D’Arcy, Partnerships Exec, TechSPARK
  8. Abby Frear, Director, TechSPARK
  9. Guy Franklin, Talent Acquisition Director, Graphcore
  10. Adam Hilder, Senior Talent Acquisition Manager, Investis Digital
  11. Chris Newton, VP of Engineering at Immersive Labs
  12. Jessica Szucs, HR & Recruitment Manager at Rovco

We kicked off the conversation with a round up of the recruitment trends of the last 18 months, and how these have affected our businesses locally.

The double hit of Covid and Brexit has changed the talent market and landscape completely. With the huge move to flexible and remote working meaning talent is being lost to other cities with historically premium salaries, which is sucking away some of the core key skills from the ecosystem. And then the Brexit side has obviously made it harder to bring talent over from Europe. Both have had a huge impact. Alex Cosgrove, ADLIB

Almost all of the hiring managers around the table agreed they’d seen much fewer applications to jobs since Covid hit, with Jessica Szucs from Rovco noting “In the past we’ve been really lucky in attracting candidates because what we’re doing is so unique, but after COVID we’ve seen a huge decline in terms of the numbers of applications we’ve received”

So in times of fewer applications – what has worked?

A focus on referrals has worked well for Huboo says Lee Berry “We’ve done an awful lot of work with internal referrals. So just asking people who they know, who they might, reach out to on their networks, I’d say of our eight recent recruits, six were direct referrals”.

Other companies have focussed on recruiting in other tech hubs in the UK and also overseas. However this obviously causes challenges in itself.

“I think the challenge we’re having, and what we’re working especially hard on, is creating that Employee Value Proposition and brand awareness in other hub spots, and also identifying and working with the senior leadership to work out where the hub spots are, where can we really make a difference” Matt Hinks explained “When Hargreaves Lansdown opened our tech hub in Poland our biggest challenge was that they’d never heard of us over there”

Hugo Maule agrees that there are a few factors that make opening overseas successful When they opened Malvern Panalytical’s Portugal office “For us the huge success factor was to have a very good internal onsite recruiter in the location. This person was excellent and really sort of worked good channels to access candidates there. It’s also right next to a really good university churning out some good graduates, has good flight connections and is on the same timezone as the UK. So there were a number of factors.

While obviously opening a foreign office and setting up a legal entity is a complicated business and isn’t feasible for everyone, it’s worth noting that there are other outsourced options for companies to be able to effectively build their teams using overseas talent.

“At Immersive Labs we use Papaya Global, who manage payroll and legal services, and through them we’ve been able to hire people in about 10 different countries now.” Chris Newton explains.

On a more local level, working closely with the Universities and educational providers has reaped some huge benefits for employers

Hugo Maule explains “We have a strategic industrial partnership with Bristol University, and a Year in Industry programme. We probably have about 10 to 12 people who come through for a year, we normally make probably about two to three permanent offers out of that”

Andy Hickman adds “Scott Logic have had a lot of success with maths graduates, engineering, graduates, physics, graduates, biologists, chemists. Not necessarily computer science grads, but these graduates are great problem solvers. They’re great thinkers, and they’ve got really analytical minds. Historically we’ve gone into the maths department and the physics department and sponsored prizes, and in return, you get to give a lecture talking about what could a career in software development career look like”

There’s also been a huge uptake in reskilling programmes and academies, like Makers Academy and the recent Digital Bootcamps which have provided some fantastic employees who are returning to work after a period off.

Chris Newton explains “We’ve recently employed someone in her late 30’s who took 12 years out to have kids and used to work for an accountancy firm.  She’s got a completely different skillset to the typical type of person we would bring into a junior developer role, and she’s absolutely thriving. So that junior talent isn’t necessarily fresh out of university, and is a whole set of people you can tap into, and that diversity is something that we care passionately about’.

Given this huge shortage of talent in the market, and the speed at which some of the companies on the call are trying to grow – what have you been doing to stand out in the marketplace?

Unsurprisingly one of the first things that’s had to change is the salary bandings, with hiring managers noticing a huge increase in both front end and back end salaries over the last 4 months.

Adam Hilder from Investis points out “Historically, we’d seen a cost arbitrage between London and Bristol, meaning it was cheaper to hire into Bristol. We’ve really seen that equalise, with the emergence of remote working. So we’ve had to recalibrate salary bandings. And we’ve seen that level heavily between London and Bristol.”

A couple of employers on the roundtable talked of having to review salary bandings every 3 months, and seeing a £15-20k pay jump in the last few months alone across front and back end salaries.

In some cases companies have changed the roles to fit the talent, and indeed the whole way their companies operate in order to fit the talent market.

Lee Berry points out that at Hubboo “We’ve basically changed our tech stack a little to follow the market. Where we’ve been able to, we’ve changed to development in languages that are more favourable than others in order to try and help out the recruitment team in that way.”

Another thing that’s had to change over the last 18 months is the recruitment process itself

Given the fact that there are so many fewer candidates on the market, and many more jobs available since the market picked up after a very slow first half of 2020. Adam Hilder outlines “We’ve really worked hard to create a very slick recruitment and interview process to nab those strong folks before they get taken off the market”

Chris Newton adds to this “We’ve put a lot of effort into interview training. One of the things about the really slick, streamlined process, we’ve had to really scale that out, we want more people involved so it’s not always the same people interviewing, and we’ve invested a lot of time around conversations like, how do we present the role? How do we present the company? How do we make that exciting for the candidate and make them want to come and work for us?”

Matt Hinks agrees it’s critical to understand the hook of a candidate “So before you even go into that interview, you’ve either utilised your internal recruiter or your external agency, to understand how you can tailor that style to make it more specific and more relevant to that candidate.”

Guy Franklin adds “I think the biggest learning so far for me has been, you know, don’t stop hiring. Graphcore didn’t didn’t stop hiring last year when many companies did. Because it’s like an old tank. And once you slow it down, it’s really hard to get it back up and running again. We carried on hiring through the sort of the steps of the pandemic as well. And at that point, supply was really hard. So it was pretty slow going. But that did give us the chance to refine our processes, make them more efficient and make them more remote friendly. So that’s really helped us now as the supply starts to increase.”

What about once a candidate has accepted, surely you can relax a little?

No says Chris Newton “The pre boarding and onboarding piece is more important than ever.

Literally as soon as that offer is accepted, that’s when they start. That’s when the process begins. That’s when you reach out, that’s when you set up calls, when you introduce them to the team and go for drinks with the team before they even join.

Adam Hilder agrees “Once the offer has been accepted, it’s about getting those candidates or new hires to meet the team, to come for drinks, to get some face time, it’s almost about building a bit of emotional buy in to starting with us, rather than leaving them to work through a one month notice period and then getting back in touch. And as a result we’ve stopped losing candidates pre start date to other opportunities, as they’re emotionally invested into the concept of joining us and really looking forward to that as well’

And once they’ve started, don’t forget that the market is still buoyant, there are plenty of jobs out there for them, so it’s important to keep staff engaged and motivated, even when a lot of them are working from home a lot of the time.

“We’ve actually decided to re onboard everyone who’s joined the company in the last 18 months, bringing them together physically. Because as much as onboarding on zooms was fun and all the rest of it, it isn’t that engaging, and we want to make sure our staff feel part of something” GUY FRANKLIN

Jessica Szucs describes a couple of their star employees, who started at a very junior level, “It was clear from the outset that one was a great employee, so we  put him on a Master’s course straightaway, which we paid for, and also allowed him time to study. It’s almost like a management trainee programme because they accelerate so quickly within the business. And it also gives them another level of engagement towards the business” 

And of course recognising that existing staff can see the uplift in salaries across their industries As Hugo points out “Because these staff are involved in the recruitment process, they know what we’re now needing to offer and we need to recognise that”

For Immersive the key is in making it an environment where people want to work, and want to come into the office “We feel we can fight against that by having a fantastic culture, a fantastic office and somewhere where people want to come and get together. We can still promote the social side and have a hub. And that seems to be going down really, really well with people that accept offers with us even with a higher offer from a fully remote role elsewhere.”

So whether it’s looking to different pools to find your candidates, in the UK or overseas, tapping up your network for referrals, ensuring a slick and refined recruitment process and carrying this through to pre-boarding and onboarding. There are lots of steps that can be taken to attract and retain that talent, and mitigate the double whammy that has been Covid and Brexit.

Thanks to ADLIB for hosting and helping us bring together this fabulous group of companies and hiring managers to share their perspectives and insights.

Written by

Head of Data

Insight & Analytics

View profile

Alex Cosgrove