Thinking outside the Gap; North East Digital Firms Are Tackling the Skills Shortage through Innovative Recruitment Methods. ROBERT GIBSON Reports

The Journal (Newcastle, England), December 2, 2015 | Go to article overview

Thinking outside the Gap; North East Digital Firms Are Tackling the Skills Shortage through Innovative Recruitment Methods. ROBERT GIBSON Reports


Byline: ROBERT GIBSON

WHEN it comes to the digital sector, the region is on a roll, with everyone from Sage Group to the smallest tech start-ups making a major impression not just locally, but on a national and international scale.

All indications would seem to suggest the picture will only get rosier - provided, of course, employers find the right people to fill their vacancies. And that's where the situation gets trickier.

According to the British Interactive Media Association (BIMA), the UK economy will lose billions of pounds if the digital skills gap is not urgently addressed.

Conducting a survey with 117 companies whose turnover amounted to PS1.36bn, the body found 95% felt their growth was being held back by a shortage of available talent within the recruitment market.

For 75%, meanwhile, finding the right staff was the biggest challenge facing their business at present, the most difficult roles to fill being those requiring coding skills, analytical skills, sales skills and visual arts skills.

Managing director of BIMA Bridget Beale said: "The findings of BIMA's research survey highlight how much of a problem the digital skills gap has now become, with businesses unable to find the right people with the right skills for the digital roles they have available.

"The UK has established itself at the forefront of digital transformation and innovation yet we could see a huge missed opportunity to build on this unless we see more digitally skilled people entering the industry."

In this context, it seems reasonable to ask if North East tech should be thinking differently when it comes to recruitment - and for Newcastle's Scott Logic, the answer is a resounding "yes".

The growing consultancy, based at St James' Gate, has long been partnering with universities across the region and is noted for its graduate scheme.

It's also, though, taken a bold approach when it comes to generating engagement and finding the right matches, both from the employer's and employee's perspective.

Emphasising experience as well as theoretical knowledge, the company has hosted undergraduate Hackathons for several years, putting students through their paces with intense sessions of collaborative coding.

The first time the event was run, the business attracted just six competitors.

Since then, however, interest has exploded, the most recent Hackathon involving more than 40 students from Durham University's Computer Science degree course.

In the New Year, a further event will be held with Newcastle University students.

Among those to benefit from the scheme to date has been Sam Burnstone, 22, who attended a Hackathon after hearing about it from a lecturer, and, as a result, made his mind up to apply for the company's graduate programme as a developer.

"The Hackathon was a really useful learning experience," he said. "It improved my understanding of the inner workings of software development, as well as getting a good impression of what it might be like to work at Scott Logic.

"I'd seen Scott Logic at a few careers events and wanted to find out more about what the business did and how a software development firm works.

"We were tasked with creating an algorithm that buys shares and the idea was that in teams we'd work to make a virtual profit. It was pressured in a positive way as it forced you to work as a team, which was great as in computer science degrees you often work in isolation.

"It made you step out of your comfort zone, but at the same time, there were plenty of staff on hand to ensure you had a really high level of support throughout."

In the most recent Hackathon, teams of up to six battled it out - not only for the title of course champions, but the extra perk of Pizza Express vouchers.

After making a collective virtual profit of more than PS95,000, they also got the chance to chat with staff over pizza and beer, and were given the chance to tour the Newcastle office and ask questions in an informal setting. …

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