The Power Of Talent

Harvey Nash Scotland Annual Tech Event

18th November 2015 - Sheraton Hotel, Edinburgh

This year, we had another great turn out despite the Scottish weather doing it's best to put people off. Our Marketing Director, Rob Grimsey, presented the results and popular subjects like Big Data and Security have been on everyone's minds as expected. Questions like: "Is Open Source worth the risk?" and "Are tech teams getting more loyal?" were hot topics, as well as the rise of wearables.

Our photographer was there on the night to capture the event.  Click here to see the photos.

When it came to Scotland specifically, there were some really interesting insights. In Scotland we clearly suffer from a very severe skill shortage based on the results, something that will come as no surprise to most of you. We promote diversity and we're more aware of it in general across all of our workplaces, this is really positive. Our Tech teams feel more integrated with the rest of the business, something that has improved year on year. Interestingly though, when it came to Innovation, the Irish respondents felt that they were a highly innovative nation (71% of respondents agreed), and Scotland came in at the bottom of this league table of opinions. For some reason, Scottish Techies don't feel they are working in a particularly innovative country.

Can this really be right?! As a non-Scot living in Edinburgh and recruiting into the Tech sector, I was baffled. I am lucky enough to work with some the most interesting tech businesses in the world, every day and the homegrown talent I see in this sector is impressive. Is this just actually a perfect example of the Scottish attitude of "Aye. We do alright, like?"

Matthew Jack, the founder of Moon Collider, spent some time taking us through the Evolution of Game AI, a topic that piqued a lot of interest in the room. He commented that AI Programmers are hard to find, There's that skills shortage rearing its ugly head. It wasn't the last we heard of it either.

The panel discussion was lively. The questions from the audience were pointed. And the themes were consistent.

1. We are innovative actually, thank you very much.

Rhona Hutchon, Director for Harvey Nash Scotland, led the Q&A and she was a bit taken aback by the apparent Scottish opinion on their own innovation. She asked the panel what they thought: Did they agree? And if not, then why did they think the survey showed a general opinion that didn't seem to reflect everyone else's view?

"We, as Scottish people, are just pessimistic," said Sharon Moore, Technical Leader for Digital Engagement at IBM. "I don't think the numbers reflect the actual opinion...."

Gordon Craig, CTO of Craneware, agreed. "Unfortunately, in Scotland, not everything is AWESOME all the time... and that's ok. We don't go about banging our drums about what we are doing; we just get on with it and build a business." 

Sharon went on to talk about the wide range of things that IBM does to promote innovation in Scotland and Ronnie Kyle, COO for Access LLP, spoke about the Glasgow Innovation Hub, an initiative that is driven by Universities.

So everyone seemed to agree, Scotland is indeed very innovative..... So why aren't we shouting from the rooftops about it like the Irish? Are they genuinely just a more optimistic nation than us? Is it that simple?

Matthew's final response on the question was thought provoking. "I do have the impression that innovation is growing here.... Is it just a poster child that's missing perhaps?"

Maybe that's it. Maybe we just need a Mark Zuckerberg or a Steve Jobs?

2. This damn skills shortage....

"The IT skills shortage in Scotland is woeful." Succinctly put by Gordon.

This drew some questions from the audience.

"What do you think of the skills shortage?" Someone asked. "What will you do to address it?"

Everyone on the panel had a whole range of examples that demonstrated what their businesses were doing. But the consensus was that it was something that needs to be prevented from earlier on.

It's cultural. A grassroots thing. It needs to start in schools. You need to give young people the belief that the tech sector is a viable option.

IBM actively encourage their staff to use their time to educate young people.

There is a drive to push entrepreneurialism in schools. Teach them that simply having an idea is a valid approach to starting a business.

Sharon noted that, interestingly, she's found that it's parents who are the worst culprits. Surprisingly, they're discouraging their kids from studying Tech. She used an example, of a conversation overheard on public transport recently where someone expressed their dismay that their child wanted to go into IT when they grew up. Given the continually buoyant market I work in and have done ever since joining Harvey Nash, I was inclined to scratch my head at this.

3. Money is more important these days

"I'm sick of hearing about the skills shortage..." said someone else. "If you want the skills, pay for them!" 

But is it really that simple? Should everyone just suck it up and increase their budgets? Is that even possible? 

The panel tended to disagree. It's not just about money. The skills just aren't there. And there's only so many people you can relocate from abroad before their markets get scarce and their salaries go up. Like Poland. 

Employers are getting creative, offering signing on bonuses. Retention is getting harder. Counter offers are rife. 

Probably the most notable change in the survey this year is that finally, since the recession, people are saying they want more money. An opinion that popped up a couple of times during our panel conversation. Previously, the content of the work and job security was enough to secure loyalty.... It's not anymore.

Trish Burgess 
Managing Consultant, Edinburgh