Building company culture and tech talent in the Thames Valley

It’s a bumper week for British culture. With Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday, St George’s Day and the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death all being commemorated in quick succession, there’s rarely been a better time to celebrate the vision, values, history and habits that unite us.

Celebrating company culture is just as important, and nurturing an environment in which employees can work towards common goals is vital to not only personal, but broader business development. It was a subject much debated at this week’s Thames Valley Tech Conference, where Sage People CEO, Adam Hale, led a fantastic panel discussion on how to galvanize a talent creation culture.

Building that culture at Sage People has been a long process, but we’re incredibly proud of the results we’ve achieved. As Adam explained, there are three things that keep him awake at night as CEO of a rapidly growing SME: customer success, innovation and development and – perhaps most importantly – having the best team.

Ultimately, great companies are made up of great people; at Sage People Adam meets everyone we hire in person, and while it can be a long, hard process, it yields a far better result. It’s not the only way we’ve tried to rethink recruitment; when Sage People was 30 people, we hired a full time recruiter. The board questioned our thinking but the sheer speed at which we were hiring meant a dedicated recruiter was essential to ensure the best candidates. We’ve now got two.

One problem we still find ourselves facing as we hire new people is the skills gap in computing. At Sage People, we have developers from Poland, Singapore, France and others, with a 50/50 gender split, but the uptake of STEM subjects in the UK, particularly among females, is till troublingly low. The other members of the panel shared similar experiences; though the Thames Valley is often seen as the Silicon Valley of the UK, it imports more tech talent than any other tech centre, and lacks the local talent base boasted by areas such as Bristol and Bath.

Louize Clarke, Co-Founder of ConnectTVT, suggested that not only STEM, but STEAM disciplines, including the arts, would be fundamental for the future workforce. While anyone can be taught to code, she argued, the ability to interpret that code and deliver it in a meaningful way is a different discipline altogether, and equally important. The arts are being overlooked in the headlong rush into STEM, but creativity, design, innovative communication and social skills will all be vital as the usage of robotics grows and the way work gets done continues to change.

Dave Stanley, Co-founder of GrillaTech, felt the same, talking about a lack in soft skills as well as technical skills. At GrillaTech, inexperienced people are paired with the highly experienced in order to transfer technology skills within the company, but it’s attitude, behaviour and diligence they look for in the recruitment process. While expertise can be taught, attitude can’t.

This lack of a local pool of talent means the Thames valley isn’t accelerating like other tech regions, and we don’t celebrate our wins and successes nearly enough. Sage People’s recent listing in the Red Herring Top 100 was listed as a case in point – though we’re very proud of it here, as a region, we aren’t shouting about it as much as we should be. By talking about the successes of Sage People and our fellow fast growing companies in the region, we’ll attract more innovators to join us, and truly make the Thames Valley a global tech competitor.

Our thanks to Louize Clarke, founder of Thames Valley Connect, for helping to drive these events and make them happen.

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