Wanted: Creative solutions to fill tech talent gap

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Promoted by Head Resourcing

David Lee hears how businesses can overcome the shortfall caused by an exponential rise in demand for fintech skills and a fall in supply

One of the big tests facing the fintech industry in Scotland is delivering a constant supply of new and high-quality talent – and Huw Martin says rising to that challenge requires a complex, rapid and detailed response.

Martin, managing director of Head Resourcing, is an experienced recruiter of technology talent and has seen a number of factors contributing to a fall in the supply of skilled people, while demand for tech – and increasingly fintech – talent is growing.

He says: “Head got involved in fintech when the financial services industry asked us to find people with technology skills.

“The challenge was that financial services as a whole had spent ten to 15 years offshoring those back office skills and we were asked to start finding people to bring jobs back here.

“We started on that path but that was consumed by the fintech revolution.

“Now everyone is in-sourcing, but we have a damaged supply chain compounded by the digital explosion – and the consequence is an exponential increase in the demand for skills.”

So what needs to be done? Martin says businesses must cast their net much more widely – and not narrow their recruitment focus.

“Every fintech company is tapping on all the universities’ doors saying, ‘Can we talk to your students?’

“We need to do more in schools, create more enthusiasm and offer some inspiration, but we are not there yet.

“Schools and parents need to do more – more schools need to look at what Stephen Ross has done at Craigroyston High in Edinburgh and offer the pathways that young people want. We have a talent gap in technology and have had for many years – because the digital world is transforming everything.

Martin, a self-confessed technology geek, is passionate about fintech – and wants to be part of finding the answers to the talent challenge.

He was involved in the talent workstream as part of the Scottish Government’s fintech strategy and has also worked with Scottish Financial Enterprise to talk to people coming to Scotland from London, Hong Kong and elsewhere.

“Scotland will only be a top five global fintech hub if external businesses, external money and external skills come in,” says Martin.

“There is a lot to do.

“We need to create leaders, employees and entrepreneurs, but we are already struggling to find enough talent – the software engineers, the data scientists, the blockchain and crypto-currency specialists and the experts in machine learning and AI.

“So if we are seeking to attract large companies into Scotland, which we have to do if fintech is to really thrive here, how can we suddenly expect to staff them up?”

“We had a noticeable decrease in applications from the Indian sub-continent when visa rules were tightened to reduce net immigration.

“That fall in global applicants has not really come back and Brexit is already having a huge impact on people coming to the UK and that will exacerbate the skills shortage.

“There is a definite perception that Europeans will not be made as welcome in the UK and I think that will become an even greater challenge.

“A Lithuanian guy who worked for Head left because he felt he was no longer welcome in the UK, which made me very sad.”

Martin says another fundamental challenge is the sense that “tech is tech”.

He explains: “Recruits want to work in areas they perceive as sexier – in artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics, or for a big name like Skyscanner or FanDuel.

“They have a mindset that they don’t necessarily want to work for a bank, even though the banks might be doing really interesting and innovative work.”

That means financial services business will have to work harder.

“My main advice to businesses is to grow your own talent, restart your graduate campaigns and do more knowledge transfer,” says Martin.

“If you think you can go to market and find talent because you have a nice shiny badge then you will struggle. Some businesses have a slight arrogance of ‘Do you know who we are?’

“Some of the very best talent will go to Silicon Valley or London, or will be snapped up by the big consultancies.

“Fintech businesses need to cast their net wider and be a bit more humble.

“The days of insisting on a first-class degree in software engineering before you will look at someone are long gone.”

Martin thinks Scottish universities have responded well to the fintech talent challenge but says the need for talent is more fundamental.

“The universities are getting there and there has been a lot of enthusiasm on the back of the fintech strategy.

“But do you need a degree in fintech to work in fintech? To me, the core skills are about problem-solving.

“If graduates have that at the heart of their skillset, you can work with them.

“You can teach technical skills and financial domain knowledge but you can’t easily teach that problem-solving mindset.

“Entrepreneurial and commercial skills are much harder to teach.”

What about the big issue of re-training financial services employees as the whole infrastructure of their industry undergoes fundamental change?

“It’s a huge, complex, cultural challenge which requires investment and training from government and large organisations,” says Martin.

“If we are fundamentally changing the skillsets of thousands of people, it’s seismic.

“It’s also difficult – things are changing so fast that we don’t necessarily know what we are training them to do.

“We have CodeClan and maybe we need more ‘academies’ of that kind.

“I’m not sure that the big businesses completely get it. At the moment, they are tinkering around the edges, but this is huge and fundamental.

“That’s why I suggest the banks grow their own, or at least cross-train.

“Organisationally, the big players are not very good at understanding the whole skillset in our workforce.

“To fill the new fintech jobs, they need to better understand who they have already got in their business and widen that talent funnel.

“I’m not saying change your criteria for the job but widen the funnel and don’t just look at a very narrow range of candidates.

“Financial service businesses need to look beyond people who have worked in financial services.

“If someone has been a skilled software engineer at Sky, or wherever, you can train them in financial services processes.

“Don’t rule them out before you start, don’t lower your bar in terms of quality – just be more creative about how you attract people in the first place.”

Martin says fintech businesses must also be creative in how they showcase themselves in the marketplace.

“You need a visible and tangible way of showing what you have to offer,” he says.

“We are increasingly seeing good-quality short videos saying, ‘This is the job’, ‘Here’s the office’, ‘This is the team’.

“It’s about showing what it’s like to work here, highlighting the working environment in an engaging way that has never been done before, through video, blogs and social media.

“It’s a way of showing people who want to work in fintech what it actually looks like.”

Martin says cultural change is also vital.

He praises the ID Co and Nucleus Financial as two Scottish companies doing exciting things and says: “The ID Co has a good suite of products and wants to push the boundaries, and they are nice guys.

“Nucleus is doing some cool stuff and has a social conscience.

“There is a sense across fintech in Scotland of not just making your quota.

“People like the fintech envoys David Ferguson and Louise Smith and all the businesses supporting it see the bigger picture and realise working together to build a successful fintech industry is good for everybody – it’s not just about ‘What can I get out of it?’.

“We are all pointing in the same direction but we need to try to build something big and ambitious and not just look inwardly all the time.”

For more information about Head Resourcing, visit their website