In the middle of all the current political and economic turmoil, the UK’s tech sector is booming. London continues to be a tech hub of Europe, and the demand for people with tech skills here is showing no sign of slowing down.
A recent survey I saw suggested that there are five jobs for every skilled developer in London.
Whilst there are efforts being made to solve this problem in the long-term with great education initiatives at all entry points – from schools through to on-the-job training, in the short-term it has a significant effect on the tech recruitment market.
Firstly, it’s creating fierce competition for people with the right skills and experience, particularly in the mid to senior level. That’s making it hard to benchmark salaries beyond the entry level - the lines are blurring around what the salary bracket should be for a particular job.
This is happening in both the permanent and contract markets. Companies are struggling to find permanent staff, but they have projects that need delivery, so they might bring in a contractor – but this is rarely a cost-effective long-term solution. The shape of the contract market has also changed. Contracts used to be reserved almost exclusively for seasoned veterans who could hit the ground running, but as the shortage has become more visible, lots of less experienced individuals have tried their hand at contracting earlier in their career.
At the same time, lots of freelancers are going permanent for moves up the career ladder, or because of the increased benefits that are becoming available. They sometimes can use their contracting experience to leverage a strong package – which you can almost guarantee will need some flex on existing salary structures.
For advice on whether contracting is a good option for you right now, you might like to read my recent post on the topic.
With increased competition in hiring, there also comes similar challenges in retaining those hires. It’s always been true that permanent staff want to work at a company that cares about them, but it’s increasingly the case for contractors. They want comparable treatment as permanent staff, they want to feel part of a genuine team culture, and they want to feel they’re making a contribution. This isn’t always the case, but I’ve noticed a shift in the number of contractors I work with who value the importance of this.
On the permanent side, tech employees want support to help them keep up with the rapid changes in technology. As a result, innovation and self-development time is becoming more commonplace - but perhaps most importantly, employers are creating opportunities to actually utilise these skills in a commercial setting.
This reflects the fact that developers seem to be motivated more by the product they’re working on and the technical challenge, and less by the desire to work in a particular sector, which has been a bigger driver historically.
Traditionally people would have been nervous about joining a start-up because of the perceived insecurity, but now the space feels more solid because of the level of investment, and of course, there’s a level of excitement because of the technical challenges involved. There’s also the cultural change start-ups bring to a sector. For example, a lot of developers used to dislike working in financial services, because the culture was very corporate, but the new FinTech outfits have changed all that – for example, the likes of Monzo, Revolut and Transferwise have transformed the face of finance.
While agencies still attract plenty of talented people, it feels like the growing start-up sector and investment from brands into in-house development teams is spreading talent even thinner. That said, it’s reasonably common to see tech staff move between agency and client side to further their career, as both do offer different challenges and opportunities to learn – and there’s definitely value in both.
The big challenge for people working in tech is the speed at which technology moves; it can be hard to see where the industry is going when you’re in the middle of it. That’s why my advice to anyone - whether they’re hiring for a new role or thinking of changing job - is to plan ahead and talk to people who have an understanding of how the sector is developing. For clients, knowing what demand is like for the skills you’re going to need helps ensure you make the right offer. For employees - either permanent or contract - making the right choices can land you the ideal role pretty quickly.
I'm always happy to share my experiences of the tech markets in more detail. If you'd like to arrange a conversation, get in touch at email@example.com.