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Why Is It So Difficult to Find Software Engineers in Cambridge?

3 months ago - developer

As a technology recruitment specialist that has worked in this sector for longer than I care to state; I often find it intriguing when I talk with HR professionals in Cambridge about the challenges they face when looking for Software Engineers in Cambridge.

Is the solution better marketing? Higher salaries? Or, is there something else to be done?

In Tech Nation’s most recent report, Cambridge is emerging as one of the best cities in the UK for growth in the technology sector. Thanks to its reputation for innovation and world-class science, along with the quality of graduates in the region; it’s no surprise really.

Cambridge Tech Sector is Booming

Having already been labelled as the UK’s own version of Silicon Valley; the Silicon Fen, started to come to fruition in the late 1970s when the Cambridge Science Park was first established. Since that point, several accelerator programs and tech centres have been set-up.

Back in 2011, a report revealed there were almost 1000 high-tech companies in the region; since then, that number has risen significantly. A more recent indication is available from the Cambridge Cluster website with sector selected as IT and Telecomms there are 3167 within a 25-mile radius of Cambridge town and a turnover of £4.6 Bn. Whoa.

Thanks to its ties with a world-class university, a healthy angel investor network, a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem, PLUS the fact that Cambridge has been named as the third-best place in the UK to start-up a new business; things have never been better in the region.

Aside from being host to some remarkably large technology companies such as Apple, Aveva, ARM, Amazon (such a lot of A’s!!), Microsoft, Qualcomm and Samsung to name just a few, the number of smaller tech companies in the region is growing exponentially.

The small start-ups now have incubator spaces such as Barclays Eagle Labs, the Future Business Centre FBC and the Bradfield Centre. Here they can go grow, network, collaborate and share story’s which fuels the whole innovation process. Eagle Labs has a wall dedicated to the ex-company logos and touching goodbyes as they leave their nest for bigger office space. Future stars in the making.

So, with all this in mind, why is it that HR professionals report they find it so hard to get quality Software Engineer’s to fill their posts in Cambridge?

Where did all the Software Engineers in Cambridge go?

I deal with Software Engineers in Cambridge all day every day, and I spoke with some of them directly to try and get a better understanding of the situation. In the next section, I provide some of their feedback as to why they choose to work with companies based “outside” of the region.

Do you offer Remote Working?

The way we work has changed. Take a trip to your local coffee shop, and you will find many regulars who work remotely or work from home. Why does this matter?

Remote working is now more commonplace than ever before. Technology has enabled us to work from almost any location and be connected to clients and the office; just like you were there in person. Professionals want to be able to balance their home and work commitments without having to spend hours commuting to a single place of work; and thanks to technology and somewhat more liberal attitudes from employers; a large number of Software Engineers enjoy this freedom.

When an employee gets to do a job they enjoy, gives them the personal/professional balance you’ll find that even when offered a bigger salary for an office based role, this sometimes isn’t enough to tempt them. Remote working gives people the freedom they need and the space they crave.

With the above in mind, technology companies who do not have offices in Cambridge, have been able to capitalise on the talent in the region. I know many people who previously worked in the IT Sector in Cambridgeshire and Suffolk that now work for a London / Reading based technology companies because they do this from the comfort of their own homes.

Thanks to technology, companies from outside the region have been able to snap-up local and experienced Software Engineer talent for themselves.

How do your Company Benefits stack-up?

So many people ask if they are offering enough money when advertising Software Engineer Jobs in Cambridge; and when they start to struggle to find the right candidates, one of their first thoughts is usually around the money.

However, the best candidates, whether employed or not, always tend to consider the long-term career opportunity more important than the short-term package. If they do a good job then the remuneration rewards will follow anyway.

If I have candidates talking up the money at job offer I ask them this question: “Forget the money. Is this the job you want?” If not, they will be disappointed no matter how much they get paid.

Loyalty and Expertise and Retention

Hiring a person based on economic needs is unlikely to inspire the person to work at peak levels, especially once the financial need is met. In my opinion, it’s better to offer a person an incentive to grow, a chance to maximise their abilities, and to become better at what they want to do.

When a Software Engineer is getting all of their needs met, with a good working arrangement, a challenging role, decent benefits / salary, why would you look elsewhere?

As they gain more experience in a particular niche, they become more valuable, they get regular pay rises, and they progress. Most companies have now realised that retention and loyalty are imperative, and they are looking after their employee’s interests more effectively than ever before.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to all. Otherwise, my job would be even more stressful than it already is. Generally speaking, the reason it feels like there aren’t enough Software Engineers to go around, is due to a culmination of many reasons and I’ve only touched upon a few.

So, if you’re looking for an experienced Software Engineer in Cambridge; it isn’t impossible, but it certainly is a challenge. I would say from going live with a new role to a job offer anywhere between 6-8 weeks at the moment. Then a wait of 4 weeks notice period, you could be looking at 3 months from starting a search to the person actually starting.

Affordability and Accessibility

This post wouldn’t be complete with a mention of the affordability of living in Cambridge. It’s something we’re all aware of, and it’s something we all deal with. For the graduates who complete their education in the City, they are immediately presented with the considerable challenge of housing costs. Whether renting or buying; this gives a significant hurdle.

Aside from this, the road networks across the region are not where we need them to be just yet anyway! Sure, we are all aware of the pending improvements to the A10, and the ongoing improvements to the blocked artery of the east – the A14. Even though these, along with other infrastructure improvements have been put into the pipeline and so far, aren’t running too far behind schedule, it adds difficulties in getting workers to the city comfortably.

Freelance Software Engineer Roles

Although it’s not for everyone, there are lots of qualified Software Engineers who opt to go freelance / contracting, and in doing so, they can earn more than their usual monthly salary in just weeks. While it comes with a degree of unpredictability, at the moment there are more enough opportunities; mainly to plug a gap while trying to find a permie.

The main drawback for this as I see it is the lack of security it offers. It suits some, but not all. Also, for those Software Engineers who might be working on a contract basis, there is certainly an opportunity here for future a permanent job, a try before you buy.

Final Thoughts

With the growing number of tech companies in Cambridge, and the rising number of potential roles for Software Engineers in the region, finding suitable candidates to fill Cambridge Software Engineer roles is a growing challenge, but it’s not impossible.

What can you do about it?

Perhaps upskilling staff could present employers with a more favourable solution. Of course, this depends on your internal talent pool, and it’s not always an option, especially for start-ups.

Aside from this, better employer branding could be a differentiating factor; trying to raise the profile of the business, offer more flexibility in the workplace in terms of remote working, and taking a more strategic approaching to sourcing candidates could present more favourable results.

To compete, you need to know what is happening in the industry at present, what are others offering, and how can you help your opportunity to stand out from any others which are available at present.

If you want some assistance, book a 15-minute strategy call with me today for an informal chat about the Cambridge technology recruitment sector.