Winning the war for tech talent

During the pandemic, recruitment has proved challenging across many industries, particularly the technology sector. Hiring across high-demand skillsets such as software development, digital and data science has been highly competitive with a shortage of suitable talent on the market. This has been exacerbated by meetings being largely virtual, making it more difficult to understand a candidate’s cultural fit over Teams or Zoom. 

Recent research highlighted that fewer than a quarter of UK tech leaders find it easy to source suitably experienced candidates, with nearly 90% of firms wanting to see more university talent emerge. With demand vastly outweighing supply, tech firms must be willing to think creatively about developing and retaining their existing talent, as well as how and where they recruit.

Understanding your skills gap

A proactive response is always better than a reactive one and technology business should begin by assessing what skills they currently have and what skills will be needed to meet their strategic objectives in the medium term. Clearly planning how the organisational chart will need to develop allows for considered recruitment, training and investment decisions, as well as careful succession planning. 

Actively creating a compelling culture   

Tech companies often provide the opportunity to work with innovative and exciting products, however this is not enough on its own to attract the top candidates. A clear mission is increasingly important as a differentiator – applicants want to work towards something especially if that mission comes with a social purpose, i.e. ‘tech for good’. A good example of this is ECI’s portfolio company, Mobysoft, which uses its SaaS technology to help landlords in the social housing sector reduce evictions, arrears and the number of tenants in debt; or Travel Chapter, which helps property owners reach customers and promotes a shared love of the British Countryside by partnering with various wildlife charities. Communicating purpose as well as product is more likely to build trust and excitement among staff and candidates.

Candidates are also placing increasing value on meaningful action on diversity and inclusion. Setting out your company’s beliefs and values is good, but it is important to go beyond that and highlight the commitments and actions you are proactively taking to set yourself apart.

Many companies use performance reviews as a way to ensure that the values and behaviours they aspire to are actually present in the business culture. These values are important to consider when looking to hire – hiring employees who are a bad cultural fit can be harmful to morale, output and retention. 

New routes for talent 

Hiring highly skilled individuals is not the only route businesses can take when looking for talent. In the UK, government apprenticeship schemes provide support for businesses looking to recruit ambitious talent, early in their career, who can then be trained and promoted through the organisation. This has the added benefit of creating a consistent pipeline of loyal talent. ECI portfolio company CIPHR has offered apprenticeships and training programmes since 2012. Building on the success of this initiative, CIPHR has committed to having at least 5% of its employees enrolled in an eligible apprenticeship at any given time.  

For graduate recruitment and training, rather than solely relying on insourced capabilities, many companies use third parties to source and train this talent, often placing them in a consultancy capacity. There is then the  option of hiring them permanently in the future – a try before you buy approach. ECI investee, mthree, hired and trained tech graduates in industry-aligned skills ahead of placing them in the client company. Similarly as part of our Growing Business Awards series, ECI recently interviewed Tim Smeaton, CEO of Kubrick Group, who help businesses solve short-term capacity and long-term capability shortages through training talented individuals particularly around data, AI and cloud. 

As well as developing skills amongst young talent, there is also untapped potential in those looking for career changes later in life. These individuals might have the right leadership and people skills but may be lacking the sector specific knowledge – a problem that can be easily rectified with training, and which again can often be provided through third parties. 

Finally, the pandemic has clearly driven an acceleration towards flexible working, and businesses within our portfolio are finding that the shortlist for talent is no longer limited to those within a commutable distance to head office. Clearly this brings different challenges but has broadened the talent pool. 

Investing in employee development

The most successful businesses will invest in developing talent both to complement their recruitment initiatives and reduce employee churn. Many large businesses have set up in-house developer training programmes – such as Spotify, Etsy, Deliveroo, Sky, and Marks and Spencer. Technical training is often complemented by soft skills training. 

Within our own portfolio, Content+Cloud, the digital transformation and cloud services provider, sponsors people to secure Microsoft accreditation; while CSL, which provides IoT connectivity solutions to the fire, security and telehealth sectors, sponsors some of its team members to take MBAs. 

Development shouldn’t stop once individuals reach senior positions – indeed setting the tone from the top of constant improvement and personal development can help to instil a culture that celebrates personal reflection and growth. 

About the author

Richard Chapman

"I enjoy leading deals at ECI and have invested in lots of different areas including healthcare, restaurants, business services and tech-enabled services, to name a few. A large part of my role is post-investment, helping companies continue their growth organically and through acquisition, both in the UK and internationally."

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About the author

Stephen Roberts

"I am a Partner in our Investment Team. My job is to lead investments into growth businesses and subsequently work with them throughout our investment. It means I get to meet with exciting businesses and inspirational teams pretty much every day, which is a real privilege."

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