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The challenge of recruitment in the Silicon Glen

Anna Knight, head of senior appointments at Head Resourcing


The technology scene in Scotland is booming; in fact, it’s becoming more fondly known as the Silicon Glen. Tech Nation’s recent report found that turnover from tech businesses in Scotland is approaching £4 billion.


However, as more tech start-ups receive funding and begin dramatically scaling up, the need for talent at all levels is challenging recruiters across the country.


Hiring the right people is absolutely key to the success of any business, but tech companies are facing a conundrum; how do you hire and retain the best candidates when the skillset changes year on year?


The talent pool in Scotland is still relatively small, and in San Francisco’s Silicon Valley, developers tend to change jobs on an annual basis. It’s not quite as short term in Scotland, but the Global Developer Hiring Landscape 2018 survey asked more than 100,000 developers from around the world about their job seeking status. Responses showed that only 16% of developers are actively looking for a job, however an overwhelming 75% of developers are interested in hearing about new job opportunities.


So, how do we pique the interest of these passive candidates? Salary is, of course, a contributing factor, however with over 75% of developers under the age of 35, they tend to be more motivated by flexibility, balance and widening their skillset, than typical promises of “climbing the ladder” to become CEOs and MDs.


Equally, the culture of an organisation, especially one that nurtures these opportunities, has become almost as important in encouraging candidates to change employer than any other factor. Whilst free food or innovative work pods might help to create a positive culture; individuals also want to be able to have freedom (and bandwidth) to experiment, test and create in order to stretch them within the business.


Mainstream business could learn a lot from the tech sector, particularly the tendency to have two core paths of progression: management expert and subject expert. Some brilliant leaders are not technically minded in the same way that some technical geniuses do not make good bosses. And certainly, in an industry where technology and solutions are changing so rapidly, it is crucial to have technical experts who focus and hone their technical skills; and don’t spend time managing a team. 


However, this in turn could leave Scotland’s tech sector with a gap at management level.


While start-up founders know their business better than anyone, sometimes being too close to the problem can be blinding, and it takes an external view to identify which gaps need filled. In parallel, an investor may think the answer lies somewhere else.


What is often needed in this situation is an external specialist who understands the language of tech developers and engineers who can come in and analyse the businesses needs and guide accordingly and in an unbiased manner.


Knowledgeable recruiters can also sit with an organisation and identify what is critical to business success at that very moment, and what can be trained and developed. While sector pressures may be calling out for AI, machine learning and a grasp on future trends; the need for product developers and sales specialists may in fact be more time sensitive to the business’ growth.


Striking the balance between having a core team of experts developing and growing the product whilst ensuring the management team is strong and can drive the organisation’s progress is no easy feat.


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