Sheffield tech sector ‘North’s best-kept secret’
The chief information officer at Plusnet says Sheffield’s tech scene is one of the North’s best kept secrets – but admits that finding talent is still a challenge.
Adam Low (pictured below) moved to Sheffield 18 months ago and has since fallen in love with the city, but says he didn’t hear much about its digital and tech scene beforehand.
“Before I came to Sheffield I was very aware of Manchester and Leeds, but I’ve been really blown away by the size and scale of it in Sheffield,” he said.
“I think it’s one of the best kept secrets in the North.”
Low was speaking at BusinessCloud’s tech roundtable in Sheffield, which was hosted at the local office of Big Four accounting and professional services firm KPMG and featured speakers from a number of the city’s leading businesses including The Floow, Azzure IT and 3Squared.
Sheffield may be shedding its ‘steel city’ image and forging a new reputation as a growing digital and tech hub – but all the entrepreneurs present still highlighted recruitment as a major challenge for them.
Plusnet employs 1,400 staff across its headquarters in Sheffield city centre and office in Leeds, but Low says finding talent can still be difficult, particularly when trying to fill senior roles.
“It does feel like there’s a finite pool of resources especially around some of the older technologies,” he said.
“It took me 14 months to find our new head of software engineering – and there were no limitations around the package so it wasn’t a question of money but just sourcing the right experience.”
Sheffield ‘poster boy’ Dr Sam Chapman is co-founder and chief innovation officer at telematics software firm The Floow, whose life-saving technology reduces road accidents.
“Our biggest challenge is that we’re actually in a market that’s still changing,” Chapman said. “The whole market we’re in is evolving at a really rapid rate and we have to stay on top of that.”
The fast-growing company operates from offices in Sheffield and Detroit in the US, and now employs 120 staff.
“Another problem we have is just keeping up with our rate of growth in terms of the building we’re based in,” Chapman added.
Mike Maddock (pictured below middle) is the managing director and co-owner of high-performance engineering design firm Performance Engineered Solutions (PES), based at the Advanced Manufacturing Park in Sheffield.
Sharing his recruitment experiences, he said: “We have a principal engineer that we recruited and it took us 18 months to find him.
“I’m actually driving to Coventry to meet a potential candidate who we’ve been courting for about two years.”
Although Maddock acknowledges the skills gap in the region, he believes that tackling the ‘skills alignment’ problem with students is crucial.
“Technology is moving so quickly that courses don’t align to what businesses require,” he said.
“By the time they come out of the ‘sausage machine’ to the other end, companies are having to re-train them and I think that’s the biggest challenge in terms of any business.”
Maddock believes Sheffield needs to move past its ‘knives, forks and steel’ legacy and “start moving forward to who we are and what we are”.
“You hear about Manchester, you hear about Leeds, you don’t hear about all the things that are going on in the Sheffield City Region,” he added.