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It's Techy up North

Author: Arif Ali
Jobs In Manchester Grim North

How can we combat the skills gap?


In the “'Northern Digital Jobs Strategy Report' 'We Are Tech Up North', Tech City and EY have all put on paper what anyone that has been working in technical recruitment has known for a while; there is a massive skills gap in the Northern tech scenethat we as technical recruiters are well placed to address 

Over the last 3 years, there has been 712,750 jobs posted in the tech/digital Sector in the North, with 168,671 people working in the digital tech space. Yet all we know for certain from the same report is that 58% of digital companies in the North say finding talent is a key business challenge for them. 

According to Stack Overflows Developer Hiring Landscape report published in 2017, The North is the third largest hub, accounting for 15.6% of the nation’s developers, lagging behind Greater London which has 20.9% and Southern England which has 35.8%. 

So how has the North ended up with this skills gap? But more than that, what can the industry and its recruiters do to help that 58% of companies that are facing talent shortages? 

The reason for the skills-gap poses as much of the problem as it does offer a solution. There is such an eclectic range of technologies and requirements, that quite often, hiring managers can narrow what they are looking for quite a lot. It used to be simple enough to look for a .NET Developer or a Front End Developer. But quite often nowadays, the Front End Developer position alone can come with someone needing a design background, it can come with a requirement of  one of five JavaScript Frameworks (specified by name) or needing WordPress experienceJust being a Front End Developer in Manchester is no longer enough. Yet, where having one of those six requirements is a compulsion, the number of Front End Developers have not increased six-fold.  

Then to add to that, if you’re working on a role in an Agency, they only look for people from an Agency background. And the list goes on.  

The North has 31 universities that teach IT/Digital type courses that would give people the right platform to expand their skill setBut the struggle lies within getting the new wave of tech talent through the courses with the relevant commercial experience on the other end. 

This is a timely conversation to have. Universities have just come into the news again recently. The Government admitting that the “market place” it wanted to set up by introducing £9,000 fees hasn’t transpired. The governments envisaged plan for some shorter courses, or staggered costs have failed, with all universities choosing to charge £9,000 and still offering a minimum of three year coursesThough the degree option is no doubt extremely valuable, three expensive years will likley deter some people. It almost seems the antithesis of the plug in and code attitude that has quickly taken coffee shop coders into tech juggernauts, evidently creating a gap between qualified ‘on paper’ tech talent and the self-taught upstarts. One of the biggest arguments to come out of this is the snobbery that can be seen by in some organisations.  A degree is just one line in someone’s CV. Especially in a candidate short market like Tech, surely someone who is self-taught or has an equivalent to a degree, or even A-levels then went straight into work, but has learned the ropes from the ground up, would give you the exact same skill set and tech-stack as someone who has spent 3 years at university. From my experience in the tech space, I could readily list off many successful CTO’s who didn’t start life as a fully qualified ‘out of the box’ candidate. They started from the ground up and learnt their trade at the coal face. 

However, the northern skills gap can’t wholly be attributed to a handful off employers refusing candidates without a degreeThe Mayor of Greater Manchester’s main pledge was to make Manchester the digital capital of the UK but keeping and attracting the talent north of the wall can be trickyespecially when companies in Silicon Valley offer remote working UX development jobs for £90,000 compared to an average of £50,000 for an in house UX developer in the UKTo keep throwing money at people will only work so much before the bubble pops. How much further north can salaries keep going before smaller companies get priced out of the market, or Software as a Service (SaaS) is the only viable option?  Don’t get me wrong, SaaS has an important place in the tech landscape but if we aren’t attracting the right talent to our northern hub I fear we will lose the very innovation that built it.  From my experience in the marketsky rocketing salaries can be counteracted by attracting great talent with a competitive benefit package, flexible working and a renowned culture. Basically, If you build it, they will come!  

The average time people stay in their job is decreasing. As recruiters, we think nothing of someone being in a job for 12 months and leaving for a new opportunity when just three years ago, that was an average of 24 months.  

From my experience the best and longstanding development teams are built not bought.  New talent needs to be nurtured, trained and shaped into a valuable company asset and the reward for this initial time investment buys loyalty and quality. Surely a near perfect skill set and the drive to learn supersedes the need for a ‘perfect on paper’ match? Now more than ever I encourage hiring managers to see the value in a candidate past their tech stack! But it isn’t all on the tech industry to make this commitment. 

As a Technical Recruitment Consultant, I have the valuable position and insight into the tech market from both the client and candidate perspective.  I can quickly identify skills gaps when they are emerging and can advise candidates on the hard and soft skills they need before they even consider their next career move. Similarly, I regularly advise clients on the sought after benefits, help with salary benchmarking and advise on the certain culture trends that are on the desirable listThis longer term approach means that both candidate and client are well informed, prepared and ahead of the curve.  Yes, the market is candidate short but it is up to the recruiters to be embedded into the northern tech landscape to take a quality approach to their search and help bridge the skills gap! 

I am always happy to offer advice and share insights into the market. So if you’re a candidate excited to plot your future career path, CTO looking for your next rock star developer, or you just want a steer on the market, get in touch!   

Arif Ali 


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