Posted on September 21, 2016 by staff

Tech talent ‘going round in a circle’ in Newcastle


Newcastle is suffering from an acute shortage of tech talent as “the same people go around in a circle”.

The North East city has a vibrant tech scene, anchored by the presence of accountancy software giant Sage.

As start-ups begin to scale and companies such as Performance Horizon blaze a trail for others to follow, it is becoming apparent that qualified programmers and developers are thin on the ground.

However other regions are also struggling with the skills gap, says Chris Blaxall, chief finance officer of SaaS (Software As A Service) solutions firm Performance Horizon.

“The salaries are going up, but it’s only the same people going around in a circle,” he warned a BusinessCloud roundtable. “There is a natural shortage on the supply and demand side of things.

“Our biggest challenge is recruiting staff. The more technical the area, the more challenging it is for us.

“But Newcastle is not unique in that.”

Ryan Davies, MD at Gospelware, a mobile strategy, design and development company based in the heart of Newcastle, agrees with that assessment.

“It is harder to recruit (developers) at college level because the skills just aren’t there (whereas) artists and designers are taught really well – we recruited every one of our designers through college,” he said.

Gospelware have taken the lead in overcoming that problem by creating internships.

“When a designer is finishing a course they’ve got a final project at the end of the year,” he continued. “They come in and work inside our studio, understand our processes and use our workflow.

“When they’ve finished their project, if they’re good then we hire them – and they can move on to commercial work within a couple of months.”

Hugely promising music start-up was founded by Costa Rican Gilbert Corrales and set up base in Newcastle after he won the Northern Stars competition at shared digital workspace Campus North.

“In the past, I’ve been able to put together very high performance teams by matching recent college graduates with very senior people,” said Corrales.

“You as a leader have to figure out how to make up those deficiencies your own way. My wife and I were pretty well respected in the Latin American tech scene, which means we can attract very senior people – regardless of whether we can pay them the salaries now or not.”

The consensus among some of the tech sector’s leading lights in the region was that Newcastle and the North East must do more to publicise its digital successes.

Graham Pearce, who leads KPMG’s technology, media and telecommunications business across the North, agrees that businesses must seek their own solutions instead of complaining about a dearth of talent.

“Wellington in New Zealand is a great example: it’s stuck on a rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, four hours from Australia,” he said.

“There’s 750,000 people and they’ve got two-and-a-half unicorns. You don’t hear them moaning about lack of talent, lack of funding, lack of skill as much as you do people in the northern regions.

“At Wellington University they are hand-picking and grooming people from the age of 16. The private sector earmarks them for a career in development – that is how they’ll maintain their competitive advantage.”