It is common for fast-growing companies to work hard to find new quality recruits, but in this year’s Birmingham & Solihull Growth Barometer report we hear from some companies who are struggling to achieve this, some who are thriving with the skills on their doorstep and how all this could change in the not too distant future.
The BDO midlands team’s research into employment growth in the region found that business services has emerged as the three-year employment champion in our top-50 with an average growth of 202%. With the real estate and construction sector coming in second with a steady year-on-year growth amounting to 183% over the last three years.
From these two sectors we see Marston and Purplebricks as the two employment giants. Marston, a company which provides judicial services for government, businesses and individuals, powered employment in the region through an aggressive acquisition programme kicked off by the purchase of NSL in 2017. This led to a fourfold increase in its employee base. While Purplebricks has more than doubled its workforce in the last year, boosting staff to around 570.
At the lower end of employment growth by sector is Technology and Media and this is reflected in what Intercity CEO, Andrew Jackson told us. “When you are trying to diversify and deliver complex technologies, people are as much a part of delivering it as technology itself,” he says. The need to find good people is more acute at Intercity because the company does most of its development in-house. The booming tech sector has really shone a spotlight on the IT skills, which is a pity Jackson says, as tech could be one of the region’s ace cards.
Wavenet, another IT company based in Solihull, faces similar concerns, CEO Andrew Ashton comments “we’re ok at retaining the people we want to retain but increasing numbers of high calibre resource is a real problem. There is just an insufficient supply of the right calibre people”. Wavenet is another company that needs highly skilled staff due to the complex nature of its offering and the support that comes with it. However, Ashton believes that the combination of good universities in the region and HSBC’s move to the area could mean the graduates stick around in the future.
The legal sector is definitely a place where they are benefitting from this, the plethora of legal firms in Birmingham is creating a steady stream of legal talent that reinforces partnerships like Gateley and Shakespeare Martineau and their ability to deliver high quality advice without having to pay London prices for buildings.
The connection between London and Birmingham will soon be closer. In 2026 a £56bn infrastructure project, HS2, will provide a direct commute between the two biggest UK cities in 49 minutes. All being well this will improve access to workforces and employment between them.
A sector well-known for staff mobility is Media, and advertising giant McCann Worldgroup is now the biggest UK marketing agency outside of London with 540 staff. CEO Dean Lovett claims that quality staff is closely linked to client retention so it’s important. The business has been able to lure talent from London already and via McCann’s international network, from places further flung such as Australia and the US.
A company who doesn’t seem to be struggling with finding good employees is kitchen unit maker, Mereway. Bob Norris, MD, says, “Birmingham has always been a thriving business centre, and there’s always been a flourishing market for skills”. Perhaps due to the move to IT based businesses, niche manufacturing businesses like Mereway are benefiting from a rise in qualified staff triggered by layoffs elsewhere.
Our New Economy policies reflect the concerns of those struggling, given the skills shortage in the tech industry, BDO believe the Government should reinstate the two-year post-study work visas for postgraduates in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) subjects.
So while it seems that many regions across the Midlands are struggling to find and recruit qualified talent, there a few big players who continue to invest in and grow their employment. Download our Birmingham and Solihull Growth Report to read more on the top 50 fastest-growing businesses.
Jon Gilpin is a Business Assurance Partner at BDO.