Putting the steel in digital

Excerpt from an article; Business Cloud magazine

Sheffield is shedding its ‘steel city’ image and forging a new reputation as a growing digital and tech hub – but recruitment is still a major challenge for start-ups.

According to Tech Nation’s most recent stats on Sheffield, the city boasts digital tech business turnover of £745 million and is home to over 22,000 digital tech jobs. But although Sheffield is home to a number of promising tech businesses, finding and retaining talent can still be a struggle for many businesses.

Putting the steel in digital Sheffield is shedding its ‘steel city’ image and forging a new reputation as a growing digital and tech hub – but recruitment is still a major challenge for start-ups. Mo Aldalou reports. A number of the city’s movers and shakers attended our latest tech round-table to discuss Sheffield’s digital credentials and their challenges.

Plusnet employs 1,400 staff across its headquarters in Sheffield city centre and office in Leeds, but chief information officer Adam Low says finding talent can still be difficult, particularly when trying to fill senior roles. He says: “It does feel like there’s a finite pool of resources especially around some of the older technologies.

Sheffield ‘poster boy’ Dr Sam Chapman is co-founder and chief innovation officer at telematics software firm, The Floow, whose life-saving technology reduces road accidents. “Our biggest challenge is that we’re actually in a market that’s still changing. The whole market we’re in is evolving at a really rapid rate and we have to stay on top of that.”

Mike Maddock is the managing director and co-owner of high-performance engineering design firm Performance Engineered Solutions (PES). Sharing his recruitment experiences, Maddock says: “We have a principal engineer we recruited, and it took us 18 months to find him. I’m actually driving to Coventry to meet a potential candidate who we’ve been courting for about two years.”

Although Maddock acknowledges the skills gap in the region, he believes that tackling the skills alignment problem is more crucial. “Technology is moving so quickly that courses don’t align to what businesses require; by the time students come out of the ‘sausage machine’ to the other end, companies are having to retrain them, and I think that’s the biggest challenge in terms of any business,” he says.

Craig Such, managing director of tech firm Azzure IT, insists that recruitment is the company’s biggest challenge. “I think it’s all about culture, but you won’t get away from the fact that some employees will move for an extra £5,000 or less because for some of them it’s just about the money. If we look at what we offer our staff, it’s all about the extra things we do, added benefits. For some people that doesn’t appeal to them.”

For Laura Smith, co-founder of a two-woman operation called Slanted Theory, the challenges of recruitment are a little different. “For a small start-up we need people that can hit the ground running because we have a number of projects that are happening and not enough people to do it,” she says. “We need specialist skills and it tends to be London that attracts that skillset, with higher wages, making it harder for a small start-up to attract the talent it needs to the North.”

According to Maddock, Sheffield needs to move past its ‘knives, forks and steel’ legacy and “start moving forward to who we are and what we are”. “You hear about Manchester, you hear about Leeds, you don’t hear about all the things that are going on in the Sheffield City Region,” he added.

See the full Business Cloud article here (Pages 58-59).

 

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