How does Scotland win the war for tech talent? - Nick Freer

It can be nice when the dots join up, like this week when one client, fast growth tech group Stellar Omada, announced a tie-up with another, private bank Hampden & Co.

Digital skills academy CodeClan's Edinburgh campus
Digital skills academy CodeClan's Edinburgh campus

Colin Frame-led Stellar Omada took on 50 people in the first quarter, and remains in hire mode during 2022. All good you would think, but it turns out there’s something of a fly in the ointment.

As CEO Frame puts it: “While we’ve already brought a load of people into the business this year, we need even more people to come on board. While there is great tech talent in Scotland, we’re finding that the size of the talent pool is starting to constrain our growth plans, so we’re actively looking at ways we can develop home grown talent.”

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Catching up with dynamo developer recruiter Kelli Buchan, who has helped a ton of companies hire engineers, FanDuel, Current Health, and Deliveroo among them, Buchan paints a picture of a glass that is both half full and half empty.

Nick Freer is the founding director of strategic communications agency the Freer Consultancy

As Kelli puts it: “2021 saw a record level of investment into Scotland’s start-up and scale-up companies. This is extremely impressive, and is testament to the calibre of start-ups Scotland is producing. It is also a consequence of the exceptional talent we have harvested in tech.”

“The challenge”, says Buchan, “is that there is not enough talent to meet the hiring demand created by the investment into these companies. Remote working has opened up opportunities worldwide resulting in higher salaries for employees, and the biggest challenge is that Scottish tech companies now have to compete with this.”

Of course, tech startups are also competing in the war for talent against more traditional sectors of industry like banking, and against established global tech groups like Amazon who have bases in Scotland.

The war for talent, a phrase coined by a McKinsey & Co executive in the late nineties, is not just about attracting talent, it’s also about retaining it.

It’s something I had a chat with Denholm Associates CEO and Founder Nicki Denholm about. Denholm itself has doubled headcount since 2020 and as Nicki commented on the occasion of the recruitment specialist’s annual results earlier this year:

“When you look at areas like remote working, hybrid working, mental health and wellbeing, these subjects, quite rightly, have more importance today in the world of work than at any point before. Employers can’t ignore how these changes are influencing employees’ attitudes to how and where they want to work. Their employer brand is absolutely integral to attracting and retaining people, and their ability to be competitive in today’s war for talent.”

This week, digital skills academy CodeClan added Skyscanner, DC Thomson, and Sainsbury’s Bank to its stable of industry partners, with these companies sourcing tech talent from the pipeline of graduates coming out of CodeClan.

Skyscanner’s Vice-President of Engineering, Andrew Phillips, had a nice perspective in the press release we put out on Thursday: “Welcoming our newest cohort of CodeClan grads is particularly special for me. I joined Skyscanner at the beginning of my engineering career, back in 2009, so I know how much opportunity our grads have to make an impact.”

Nick Freer is the founding director of strategic communications agency the Freer Consultancy

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