Attracting and retaining talent is one of the most basic issues every tech company faces — it’s the people behind the innovation that are core to driving success. Now, as British tech pushes on as a world-leader, growing at a rate over one-and-a-half times faster than the rest of the UK economy, the battle for recruiting the best of the best is more important than ever.
While the government recognises the UK as one of the top places in the world to start and grow a tech business – with ambitions to maintain our leading position, achieving this can only come down to the industry having enough talent to meet an ever-increasing demand. Among a continued sector-wide shortfall of skilled workers, Pete Danks, Divisional CEO of intent data management platform Carbon DMP, considers how the UK government is helping tech firms to develop and recruit the talent it needs to succeed.
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To fuel the growth of fledgling tech companies, several funding routes and support systems have been created and made available from the UK government. And, in light of its research claiming that Britain is home to over a third of Europe’s fastest-growing tech firms, the important role the government plays in nurturing innovative businesses cannot be denied.
But when it comes to supporting tech companies in their fight for top talent, rather than looking to what packages the government currently provides, what must be questioned is if it’s doing enough to ensure the range of grants and schemes are accessible to all – regardless of major challenges including size and location.
Industry-funding for new AI Masters places via the AI Sector Deal, for example is all very generous, but these packages are often more widely known to the rapidly expanding companies already identified as being on the path to unicorn status, or those perfectly placed for leading academic institutions to feed-in fresh new talent. For the average UK entrepreneur – who may be working alone on a ground-breaking concept, desperately in need of a larger pool of talent to get their start-up off the ground, this kind of support can seem untouchable. And, that’s if there is any initial awareness at all.
When the gloves are off, is this fair to the small business based in a humble living room or garage, far away from the nearest town or city and ecosystem making it impossible to naturally attract any talent that’s out there?
Being estranged from a commercial environment, means these kinds of companies will not only find it significantly more difficult to learn what support is available to them, but generally speaking, they can feel that securing funding to help with their comparatively tiny talent needs is inconceivable. Eligibility criteria is perceived as being too hard to meet – or understand – and a lack of hands-on support puts many off from applying at all. We must confront the fact that many innovative companies could be overlooked, simply because they’re not as sophisticated as larger firms with more staff and wider networks. This leads us to wonder if a good enough representation of the sector is being utilised to develop certain strategies.
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In the North East, where the tech sector is becoming one of the UK’s burgeoning digital hotspots, we’re lucky to benefit from relationships with education providers that not only want to place talented graduates, but are open to bridging the gap between academia and industry, to support the generation of a highly-skilled tech workforce of the future. In our experience however, the schemes we’ve been involved in haven’t been driven by academic centres – nor the government, but through existing links within our current talent pool. A key example of how we established such a union – and to great success, is through alumni from prestigious institutions – including Durham University. By accessing Innovate UK’s Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) scheme, we joined forces with the leading institution to create an opportunity, which sought a recent STEM graduate to explore statistical models of digital data.
The first-of-its-kind KTP aimed to help our new intent data driven tool, Carbon DMP revolutionise how personalised advertising content is delivered to online audiences and improve click-through rates (CTR). Combining Durham University’s expertise in statistical modelling with our unique customer intent data, research produced by the successful candidate led to an algorithm being developed that allocated an ‘Intent Score’ to a consumer, replacing the binary ‘Interest’ versus ‘Intent’ label that is traditionally used in the industry. As a result, our first KTP recruit went on to win two national awards in recognition of his innovative contributions in developing Carbon DMP and secured a full-time role on our data science team.
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We’re now seeking further computer and data graduates to undertake our second KTP with Durham University as we aim to push the boundaries of what our technology has achieved so far. None of this would have been possible without funding for the KTP Associate’s salary and while these undoubtedly essential schemes are in place – does the potentially ground-breaking new start-up, locked away in their garage without access to the talent they need, have a fighting chance to realise?
I’d like to see a government-funded talent development programme that is clearly engineered for the scrappy start-up – with a clear application that helps the smallest of tech firms believe they can recruit and develop the skills they need to start and grow. By increasing engagement with this part of the sector, we can only enable a greater spread of tech talent, reaching companies of all sizes to ensure the UK remains a winner at the global forefront of innovation.