Integrating technology businesses and academia is a top priority for the region

Integrating technology businesses and academia is a top priority for the region to stay ahead in the hugely competitive and fast-paced market, according to a group of senior leaders in the sector.

The fact that no economy, region or sector can flourish without attracting and retaining the necessary skills was a simple but effective message explored at’s technology roundtable.

Sponsored by Garbutt + Elliott and Progeny Law, the roundtable discussion involved senior leaders from businesses including Jaywing, Vet AI, Synap, Nexus Vehicle Rental, Software Cloud, Panintelligence and Rapidspike.

Much debate surrounded the nature of both the training needed and skills available to harness and support the growing and ever changing Leeds technology sector.

Paul Hallett

Paul Hallett, co-founder of Vet-AI, noted that from a skills and learning perspective, Leeds has much to offer. “The talent is here. The university’s Nexus building [at Leeds University] is a prime example. There is an attempt to create a place where industry meets academia.

“We have Mercia, NorthInvest and KPMG all in the same places with thriving tech businesses. The engineering school at Leeds is the best in the country. The University of Leeds is a brilliant university, as is Leeds Beckett University, Huddersfield University and Leeds Trinity University. We are blessed in this region for great universities in the region.”

Apprenticeships were also a big discussion point for the group. Gav Winter, CEO of Rapidspike, said “I prefer apprentices, because from a graduate point of view they are coming out with skills that are largely irrelevant, certainly from a coding perspective.”

Winter also talked about the salary challenges facing the sector.  He noted how there was an expectation for high salaries in the sector from the moment a graduate enters the profession. He added it was hard to compete with some salaries being offered and so this aspect also supported non-university graduates being a very good source of talent.

The group all agreed that because the nature of a technology business was to always embrace changes and new releases, it was imperative to also hire the right “fit for the business” in terms of culture. That way, they can be supported while learning and adapting.

Zee Hussain, director at Progeny Law, agreed: “We favour the apprentice route because what it gives students, or

Zee Hussain

potential candidates, is the opportunity to sample the type of work and environment and have a chance to see if it is the way they want to go in their career. I really favour the approach where you can learn alongside someone doing the job, where the individual can be coached and mentored.”

Looking at this from a different perspective, Rob Shaw, CEO of Jaywing, said hiring both routes had advantages as well a downsides; adding it was all about measuring what was needed for the business growth and success.

Shaw also talked about how to retain staff in the industry, with an emphasis on investing in their skills and training. He revealed his own experience working with the University of Leeds to assist in the training of students to supply them with the necessary tech skills.

He said this had proved to be useful for the students, who gain a real life, and in-depth, working knowledge of technology, and the business mentors, who gain insight, knowledge and a perspective that they previously did not have. “It is all about developing new talent in technology,” he said.

Charlotte Bailey, operations director at Panintelligence, said one challenge was the lack of technology knowledge

Charlotte Bailey

among graduates.

She said: “There is a massive gap between the concept and the reality. And though I am happy to invest in university students, I am more aligned to the likes of Northcoders – people with a bit of life experience that might not have a strong tech background, but after a twelve week course bring a lot to the table because they are really passionate about moving into the tech industry.”

James Gupta, founder and CEO of Synap, said he saw two things happening. He explained: “One, the lines are getting blurred between a traditional academic education and on-the-job training. On top of that, you have student expectations in that they want to see engaging training, rather than just a course.”

Bailey said it was imperative to work with universities closely. She said: “You have to sell to a graduate a proposition of the future. You need to sell them a story. Ownership is important for graduates. Working more with universities will mean we will get more from the graduates because we will define more clearly what we want.”

Gupta, who himself completed a spin-out firm from university, responded: “SPARK and the University of Leeds do a fantastic job – but they are unsure about how to deal with and promote to students about setting up their own businesses and start-ups. Some academics want students to be academically focused and go on and do a masters rather than preparing them for the world of work. So there is always going to be some conflict there.”

Sarah Tulip, director of operations at Software Cloud, said her company set up a graduate programme in technology five yeas ago, which has since brought more than 100 graduates into technology jobs – with 54% of those being female.

David Brennan, CEO at Nexus Vehicle Rental, agreed that it was for businesses to engage where possible to lead the

David Brennan

way in bridging the gap and encouraged others to do so. He said: “We were one the first sponsors of the SPARK’s programme.

“I also work with Leeds University. They have something called Leeds in Residence where business leaders come in and tutor MBA and degree students. But I would say here, there is still a gap between the academic side of Yorkshire, which is very strong, and then integrating this into business.”