Talent makes the tech industry go around. A dedicated, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable workforce is the backbone of any sector, but tech has encountered a few bumps in the road when it comes to scaling talent in symmetry to technological advancement. 

As a key, ongoing conversation in our community, we’re spending January focusing on a few integral topics when it comes to tech talent. Thanks to recruitment experts and our editorial month sponsors, iO Associates, for supporting this work. You can check out all things Talent Month at the hub here

So where does the Bristol & Bath tech cluster find itself when it comes to talent? 

First, let’s look at the positives. The Bristol and Bath tech cluster has gone from virtually non-existent to establishing a solid reputation as a leading region for technology in the past 20 years. And that’s not just self-proclaimed – the 2022 CompTIA UK Tech Town Index, cites Bristol as the best city for tech jobs regarding factors from growth to housing prices and cost of living to salary opportunities. Beyond this, Tech Nation reported that Bristol & Bath was the third largest hub for tech investment in 2021, whilst Bristol also took home bronze for posting over 36k vacancies between May 2021-22. 

Is this projected to sustain itself? Our inaugural State of Tech in Bristol & Bath report uncovered that significantly less venture capital funding was deployed in 2023. This downward trend could be cause for concern as companies across the board grapple with the cultural and recruitment implications of national economic hardship. 

We know firsthand after the pandemic that tech is an incredibly resilient sector, but let’s take a closer look at the current talent landscape to see the bigger picture.

Rolling in tech talent

One thing’s for sure, our cluster hasn’t grown exponentially through lack of talent. Bristol and Bath has successfully attracted and nurtured a wealth of technological expertise. In its study for their Tech Town Index, CompTIA identified that Bristol’s tech giants such as Dyson and Oracle are consistently hiring software developers and engineers, IT specialists, web developers and systems engineers. 

We know from our own jobs board that Software Engineers and Developers are the most highly sought-after roles. Thanks to a supportive ecosystem, there is lots of talent out there, but still demand to fill positions outstrips the supply of workers. 

Ellie Ward, Lead Marketing Executive at iO Associates shares that, “The landscape of talent acquisition has seen an increase in the desirability and competitiveness of roles requiring Security Clearance (SC), Developed Vetting (DV), and clearance within the United Kingdom Intelligence Community (UKIC).” 

As we consistently move towards becoming more cybersecure as a country, an increasing number of opportunities within the cyber sector are also emerging. Ellie adds, “Notably, when the financial allocations were disclosed by the Government, it became evident that job security in the coming years would predominantly be within the Defence sector, therefore enhancing competition.”

Moreover, in her research for The State of Tech report, Briony Phillips found that in Cheltenham, there are 30 applicants for every 1 place on the Cyber Security degree apprenticeship course co-run by the University of the West of England and Gloucestershire College.

Within this report, the West of England Combined Authority illustrates that big players from Channel 4 to Netflix have been attracted to our region armed with the finance and resources to train a passionate workforce here in the South West.

Together with its inward investment arm, Invest Bristol & Bath, WECA works to bring a variety of organisations to the region that strengthens our ecosystem.

“The West of England is one of the biggest tech hubs in the UK and the largest tech workforce in the South West of England, our global reputation means we attract and retain the best talent and businesses.”

Alongside the large organisations, Bristol & Bath is a fantastic place to establish a startup. With Beauhurst naming Bristol no.5 in the UK as the best startup hub, this has also contributed to the rise of developers setting up in the city.

But what reasons are there for Bristol & Bath to become such a reputable tech hub?

What makes Bristol & Bath a successful tech hub

Our Managing Director, Ben Shorrock, describes our region as a ‘goldilocks’ destination to set up a tech business. Small enough for close-knit communities to thrive in, large enough to attract significant capital and talent pools. Bristol has undoubtedly monopolised this sweet spot, building on its existing reputation as a great city to live in. 

The figures speak for themselves: the Bristol & Bath tech ecosystem is worth £1.7bn, is home to 3 unicorns (a statistic only beat by London), and together we’ve raised £2.08bn in the past five years (State of Tech report, 2023). As our tech sector grows, the success draws in key talent. People keen to move away from the capital whilst maintaining a skyrocketing career are eagerly turning to the South West, for a myriad of reasons. 

We now have 81K tech workers in Bristol and Bath, out of a combined population of 954K. The significance of this number is illustrated when looking at other UK tech hubs, such as Manchester. The city is home to 2.86M people, with 90K tech workers (State of Tech report, 2023).

Impact Driven

There is a general attitude in this ecosystem leaning towards purpose. Aside from technology, Briony describes the region as having “an undercurrent of activism” that is engrained into our culture here. She cites change-makers dating back to the 1963 Bristol Bus Boycott, and more recently the Black Lives Matter protestors in 2020 who successfully toppled the Colston statue, igniting a ripple effect across the country.

Whilst these events aren’t directly connected to the tech industry, it does closely impact our talent pool. Having a reputation for shaking things up and taking a stand against oppression means a huge number of driven, passionate and proactive individuals have stayed here or relocated to be apart of that unique energy. These are the same people who go on to become founders of Green Tech startups, or champions for building inclusive workplaces. 

Consistently at tech events across our region, the community is engaging in conversations about people and the planet. There is a recognition that ethics and sustainability don’t negate sales; in fact, keeping these values at the forefront often boosts profits. 

This sense of keeping purpose at the core has ricocheted throughout the ecosystem. Hargreaves Lansdown illustrates: “We provide Digital teams with a clear purpose, so they know what they are doing matters. Through creating an environment and culture that allows our teams to do their best work. And by encouraging each team to adopt the ways of working that are sustainable for them, and so allow our colleagues to be their whole selves inside and outside of work.”

World-leading research and education

An obvious reason for having such a strong tech workforce is to look at the educational and research institutions here. Home to the University of Bristol, UWE Bristol, University of Bath and Bath Spa University, each of these four establishments boast their own specialisms. 

These universities have fostered world-class research groups, such as the Bristol Robotics Lab, The Institute for Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems (IAAPS), and Future Space.

Connected to organisations including SETsquared, they operate in conjunction with the tech sector, albeit there have been calls to integrate these relationships at a greater scale to be mutually beneficial.

 A great place to live

Ultimately, we can’t ignore that Bristol & Bath are all round desirable places to live. As remote working is now normalised, talented individuals aren’t limited to specific tech hubs anymore. However, CompTIA highlights that their Tech Towns Index accounts for “where ideas are born, where talent is made, where innovation is appreciated and ultimately where technology blossoms.” When it comes to these factors, our region thrives in each and every one, on top of being a place people want to live. 

Bristol’s median tech salary is just under £40K; 46% higher than the median wage across all occupations. Known as a ‘sticky city’ retaining the student population that comes here for university, Bristol wins the popularity contest. People who find themselves in the city often develop a strong affinity to the area, which most likely doesn’t need to be explained to you!

Where do the tech talent gaps lie?

It’s a national problem that the tech industry’s growth is stifled due to a sheer lack of human resource. 

iO Associates identified legacy tech as a key area that has a smaller uptake in applicants. It’s been reported that designers, architects, and leaders are also currently hard to find (Information Week, 2023). 

In the startup scene, investment booms from 2021 & 2022 seem to be short-lived. Bristol dropped out of the top 20 in the 2022 Atomico report, and we’re seeing more startups struggle to access finance. Briony identifies that when looking at the funding numbers, a combined figure can be misleading. Recently, it has been a case of big cheques being attributed to a few, including Huboo, Ovo, Clearbank and Netomnia. She notes that perhaps there is an unhelpful bias toward equity investment when this form of funding is often not the best option for businesses.

Socio-economic factors such as the Cost of Living crisis, are also impacting access to talent. Despite high median tech salaries in the region, chartered surveyors Stokemont crowned Bristol as the most expensive major city to live in outside London. As a city, we need to build more intentional public transport to avoid alienating the cheaper areas to live in. The report illustrates the strong North v South divide in Bristol: “100% of Clifton kids go to University, whilst only 8% of South Bristol kids do” (State of Tech report, 2023).

Regarding specific sectors in tech, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a growing area in need of more talent. AI is having its moment; well and truely the zeitgeist of tech, the boom calls for more progress to be made, and people to make that happen.

ISL Talent reports that job postings for AI-related roles have more than trippled since 2019: “As more organisations begin to adopt AI, the scarcity of AI professionals becomes increasingly evident,” explains Harriet O’Neill at ISL Talent.

A huge reason for this is the lack of education on the subject. “25% of global workers ranked AI proficiency in the top three most important digital skills to have, but only one in ten workers possess the AI skills needed,” adds Harriet.

“Traditional education systems are struggling to keep up with the ever-evolving technology, and there’s a distinct lack of specialised AI courses and programs out there. This has led to a big gap between the actual skills needed for current AI technology and those acquired through conventional education, leaving aspiring AI professionals unequipped to meet industry demands.”

Closing the skills and diversity gap

Thankfully the proactive nature of our region is in full force when it comes to addressing these issues. 

Recruiters in the region are dynamic and go beyond simply putting candidates forward for roles. “At iO, we serve as the central hub for meetups, tech societies, and dynamic collaborations with various organisations. We actively run our own range of successful meetups and attend industry events to ensure we are ahead of the game,” Ellie tells us.

You can access these events on the iO Meetups page. “Our initiative plays a crucial role in addressing current skill gaps within the market contributing to the development of its community,” Ellie adds. “If the sector is learning, then the market is evolving!”

There is a hive of activity in the South West, with events tailored to specific needs and wants. Check out our events calendar to explore what’s coming up soon. 

Alongside connecting the community, there are more targeted initiatives taking place throughout the region. From bootcamps, to apprenticeships and inclusive outreach, here are just some of the organisations working tirelessly to minimise tech skills gaps.

Creating a more diverse workforce

Hopefully by now attitudes have significantly shifted. It’s widely recognised that having diverse teams makes businesses thrive. Building environments where individuals from varying walks of life can equally flourish is the bare minimum, and the positive outcomes on productivity should be perceived as a bonus rather than a reason. 

It’s consistently motivating to work in a community alongside so many organisations that exist to make the world a better place. With some niche goals and some broad scope, there’s a lot of inspiring work going on. 

A recently established example is Swindon-based DiversITy-talent. Their mission is to positively impact 10,000 untapped talent pools. This will be achieved through a variety of methods – from providing mentorship to forming strategic partnerships with large organisation – you can learn more about DiversITy-talent’s progress so far and outlook for the future on their Startup for 10 here. 

MotherBoard is another organisation dedicated to making the workplace fairer. With the specific goal to create space for working mums in tech. In 2021, Sophie Creese launched MotherBoard with support from ADLIB Recruitment in response to the stark reality of the tech recruitment industry’s landscape.

Commenting on supporting the initiative, Nick Dean, CEO at ADLIB, says, “While employers are keen to diversify their teams, hiring alone cannot solve the problem. There needs to be a greater emphasis on creating work environments that enable women, mothers, and parents to thrive, so they continue in their current roles, and the industry as a whole.”

2023 proved to be a successful year for MotherBoard, as Sophie took home the Lead 5050 Award for ‘Contribution to Gender Diversity’ and the team partnered with Code First Girls to maximise impact. MotherBoard now has 29 charter signatories, reaching 2200 employees. Some more key figures MotherBoard collected from the past year include: 

  • 63% of signatories have addressed and improved their policies to be more inclusive of parents through either improving leave, enhancing their flexible / remote working policies or bringing in specific policies around aspects such as child loss.
  • 50% of signatories have made their hiring practices more inclusive through initiatives such as creating more part-time options and opting for an anonymous application approach.

Coding Black Females has also made huge strides towards getting more Black women into tech roles. Launched in 2017, the nonprofit organisation is now the UK’s largest network of black female developers. Its primary aim is to provide opportunities for black female and non-binary developers to learn and develop themselves. 

Charlene Hunter MBE, CEO and founder of Coding Black Females, tells us “Since starting Coding Black Females we’ve provided training opportunities to over 2500 Black women globally. “

Providing pathways for young people

Babbasa is an organisation that works at the convergence of young people and diversity. Simply put: “Babbasa believes that although talent is distributed evenly across the globe, opportunities are not.” Rather than being defeated by this reality, Babbasa’s objective is to change it. Initially, this was focussed on the South West, but news has just broke that they’ll be expanding very soon!

Two key programmes the team is running are OurCity2023 and BRIS Services. Qazzally Ali, Executive Assistant says, “We’ve collaborated with the City Office to help over 2000 young people into a median salary job over the next decade.” OurCity2030 has a bold and positive target to support at least one person from each inner-city household in Bristol to secure a median salary (£30,353) by 2030. This vision aims to catalyse systemic change, inspiring both citizens and businesses to get involved in the pursuit of a fairer future for young people and was included as a goal in the third iteration of Bristol’s One City Plan.

BRIS Services goes beyond placing people in jobs; it exists to ensure workplaces are setup for retention. They provide recruitment support, training and inclusion services to help companies advertise jobs, attract more diverse talent, and in turn support them with their inclusion needs. Sangeetha Wynter, Training and Inclusion Manager, elaborates, “We help deliver training to companies and organisations to provide them with the tools to be culturally competent so our young people can live and thrive in these in these spaces.”

Over at UWE Bristol is the award-winning Green Skills for Jobs and Entrepreneurship programme, with a key part of the course hosted at Future Space, focusing on innovation in the green sector. 

For the UK to meet its sustainability targets by 2030, the government estimates we will need to create and support 250,000 new green jobs. UWE and Future Space are contributing to fulfilling this, and now over 100 young people have now completed the Green Skills course.

Bristol-based Condense has also taken an alternative approach to its internal recruitment. Albeit on a much smaller scale, this attitude is key for changing the tide and encouraging new faces into the tech sector. Its hugely successful scholarship scheme is now running its second cohort to train people in immersive tech. 

After learning that less than a tenth (8.5%) of senior leaders in UK tech are from ethnic minority groups, a sixth (16%) of IT professionals are female and a tenth (9%) of all IT specialists have a disability, Condense decided to play their part in rewriting the narrative (Prospects, 2022).

Stronger together

Whilst it’s clear there’s work to be done, we’re lucky to be surrounded by a community eager to catalyse change. Although we face significant challenges as a country when it comes to tech talent, we can use our success so far in the South West to keep moving forward. 

It’s become increasingly evident that education at all levels is necessary to create opportunities for a variety of people to make the transition into tech. Hopefully, with support from public bodies and large corporations alike, we can continue to grow and strengthen the tech sector here in Bristol and Bath. 

If you’re keen to become a part of the community, check out our jobs board for the latest vacancies. Join the conversation at tech events across the region to be a part of closing talent gaps; get in touch with the team today to do this at Bath Digital Festival.

Shona Wright

Shona covers all things editorial at TechSPARK. She publishes news articles, interviews and features about our fantastic tech and digital ecosystem, working with startups and scaleups to spread the word about the cool things they're up to. She also oversees TechSPARK's social media, sharing the latest updates on everything from investment news to green tech meetups and inspirational stories.