Hello, my name is Scott McGowan and I am an IT & Digital Recruiter for Zenith People. I am looking to provide these blog updates to serve in giving my overview and perspective on what is happening within the North East. From the good work and success stories in the region, how the market is developing, what maybe is not working so well, what networks and events are coming up and general IT and Digital information that hopefully you will find useful.

It has been 8 months since I moved back to the North East to join Zenith People, heading up their IT offering across the region, Being able to envelope myself within the Digital and IT market has been hugely exciting and I have taken my time sussing out how the sector differs from where I have worked in the past, to know what established businesses are here, what networks are set up and some of the issues that exist in the market… more of that in a bit…

Previously, I was based out of the North West for 8 years. Working for an SME, I ran markets within the public sector. For the first 2 years I worked within technical support, and then the next 6 years in clinical system implementations, assisting many NHS Trusts with resources for short and long term projects. During that time, I managed to grow long lasting relationships with key individuals in the market both clients and contractors, some who I would class as friends. I had a great 8 years but towards the end of 2017 I felt it was time for a change and a new challenge.

The opportunity arose to move back to the North East, a place I had spent my early life, but left when I was 14 (21 years ago!!). To be honest it took me time to decide if coming back to the region was the right move, although Newcastle was and always has been in my blood and I have a very emotional attachment to the area, from a business perspective I wasn’t 100% sure. I didn’t know much about the IT market here and, like many, I knew the region as a place of Industry, Manufacturing, Engineering and not one of a thriving Digital hub – how wrong I was! I did my research and found that there was a huge opportunity to be part of something that is organically growing. Also, importantly, having worked for an SME, I wanted to make sure that my next move was to a business of a similar ilk and ethos. It was the attraction of the North East, Zenith’s reputation and values, as well as the chance of being involved in a sector which by all intents and purposes is still in its infancy and beginning to take shape, that eventually made the decision for me.

The main thing that has struck me over the first few months is how close a network the market is, and the established organisations here that have the capability to change the Digital sector for the future. There are also many SMEs and innovative start-ups that are putting the North East on the map, and some great work and talent coming out of the colleges and universities. It is a real opportunity to be part of what will be the region’s biggest growth sector over the next few years.

So far, I have tried to immerse myself in the networks that already do so much good work – Digital Union, Sunderland Software City, Invest South Tyneside to name a few – and to attend all the talks and forums I can. Also, speaking to influential clients and contacts in the region to get an idea of where the sector is at and the potential areas to build business and the right relationships. It seems that, to a certain degree, everyone knows everyone in the North East and there is a real concentrated effort from organisations, networks, universities, local councils to push the sector forward in the short term but also looking beyond the immediate future. The fact that we have networks such as the ones I mentioned and innovative new tech hubs like the new PROTO site that has been built in Gateshead, shows the intent of the region in becoming a place that businesses want to flourish and skilled professionals want to stay.

However, for all the positives, the sector also has its issues. The North East isn’t unlike elsewhere in the country, the problems here are the same as many across the UK.

There are organisations large and small who lack the skills needed in key technical areas within their business, and predominantly this is down to skills shortages. The North East has the UK’s 4th highest average salary in IT, which from first thought is a positive thing. However, this is not down to having expertise that are way above those in other parts of the country, it is the skills shortage here that is pushing up those salaries. As a lot of companies require similar skill sets, some are willing and able to pay, above what would be classed as “market rate” and so a chain of inflation is created. While others have the time and resource to be able to train and develop talent to solve their issues. Companies have a decision to make and, in my eyes, have 3 options: (1) pay for the skills needed right there and then; (2) train within and up skill the current staff or; (3) look to apprentices and graduates and take time in nurturing that talent.
For me it is about options and what is right for a business. Plan A, providing that skilled and highly experienced professional who can solve issues very quickly for organisations. I have spoken to many already and the region has some fantastic talent but often they can be in short supply. Plan B, looking at graduates and apprentices as a viable option. There are so many young, aspiring individuals, who with the right training and given the time and guidance, can bring a new, fresh and innovative perspective. Finding the right attitude and willingness to learn is half the battle, and then developing those skills to make sure it’s a solution that works. There are many variables to consider of course, how urgent the need is; can a business take the time to develop skills in house or is it something that just can’t wait; the cost of hiring or indeed the cost of not having that skill in place; the internal team environment and what experience is already there.

There is no getting away from it though, skills gaps are an issue and may continue to be. The market will not stop developing and it is how organisations manage and proactively address the problem that is the key to solving it. There is so much great work going on already around this, it is about how we can all help each other in making sure that the sector really can thrive.
So that is a snapshot of my background, some of my thoughts on the market within my first 8 months and the first of my blogs. I have already started working with some great clients and I am really enjoying being part of a thriving network and from a personal level happy to be back in the region. The North East really is a great place to live and I am finding that it is also a great place to work.

Before my next blog, there are questions I would like to leave with you and any general comments you may have…

What are your views on the North East as a market for IT?

What factors make the North East a great hub for Technology, for businesses to consider setting up here and for talent to want to stay and work in the region?

What can we do to make sure that the future of the sector is only going to continue on an upward curve?

Is the skills gap the biggest hindrance to the sector moving forward? If so what is the best way to resolve that issue?

Is there a better way for the sector to connect across the region and share thoughts and ideas and put them in place?