Many IT professionals looking for a better quality of life assume they need to make a trade-off in terms of career development and salary, but that isn't the case if you move to the West of England and South Wales, according to recruiters and employers in the region.
IT vacancies in the area are up by 10%, according to the latest survey from IT data provider Salary Services. Owen O'Neill, managing director at Ashton Consulting, a Bristol-based IT recruitment consultancy, attributes this both to relocation by public and private sector organisations - such as the Meteorological Office in Exeter and Orange in Bristol - and to growth in businesses founded in the region.
Historically, the West has had a strong presence employing engineering professionals in electronics, defence and aerospace. The electronics sector continues to be a major employer companies include Swindon Silicon Systems and Apertio, which was recently acquired by Nokia.
By contrast, the IT industry in South Wales is relatively young. "When I left university in the 1980s, there really wasn't much in the way of IT opportunities in South Wales," says Chris Short, managing director at Fusion Workshop, a Cardiff-based software house specialising in enterprise web development. "That is not the case now, and there are very good opportunities with serious career prospects."
Among those that have shifted IT staff to the region are financial services companies. These have relocated national or regional headquarters into the area, particularly in the north around Cheltenham and Gloucester, where employers such as Zurich and Endsleigh Insurance are based.
Short points out that many of the IT staff who join these finacial companies already have some connection with the area, such as having been to one of its universities.
Most recently, O'Neill says, there has been a boom in new media, with support organisations such as Bristol Media being funded by the South West of England Regional Development Agency to promote the growth of new media businesses in the area.
Jim Whelan, managing director at Bristol-based MVM Recruitment, a specialist IT consultancy within global recruiter Vedior Group, says this is just one facet of a well-established base of small and medium-sized IT services companies in the area looking for developers with specialist skills. "There is a strong vein of entrepreneurship in the area and we supply staff for a lot of specialist developers and consultancies," he says.
So IT professionals relocating out of London and the South East - which accounts for about half the IT jobs in the UK - needn't worry that they will find their career development limited. Whelan says they will be joining a community of about 60,000 IT professionals.
O'Neill says, "There is a wide and increasing choice of employers of all sizes, and many of the companies here are growing rapidly, so there are lots of opportunities to grow with them."
Demand for expertise
Not surprisingly, employers in the region are looking for skills that are popular elsewhere, such as Java, .net and experience in finance applications. But there is also significant demand for staff with expertise in embedded software.
"There is intense competition for all those skills in the permanent market, even though there is a sizeable pool of candidates," Whelan says. "The contract market has slowed over the last two or three years as companies have tended to bring work in-house, but there is still a call for experience in C# and SQL Server in IT services companies and end-user organisations."
Whelan says salaries may be typically about 20% lower than in London, but your money will go further, thanks to slightly lower property prices and cheaper commuting costs.
Short suggests that new media companies such as Fusion are paying only a few per cent less than comparable roles in London for most technical and project management roles. "Some of the rates paid in the Square Mile are way above what we could match, but if you add in our investment in training and other incentives, the total package is very competitive," he says.
Even with lower salaries, the pay-off is a better work/life balance.O'Neill says, "Companies can genuinely offer a work/life balance. Even if you are working in the middle of Bristol or Cardiff, you are only 10 minutes from fields."
Short says, "Most of our staff are outdoor types, most either mountain bike, surf, climb, sail or similar. All this can be had in the Cardiff area with great destinations such as the Gower Peninsular and Brecon Beacons all less than 45 minutes away".
Cultural life is also vibrant. "There is an attractive city social life, especially for young professionals, in the larger cities, such as Bristol and Cardiff," Whelan says.
Short says, "South Wales is pretty cosmopolitan and there is a relaxed and friendly culture. With house prices and cost of commuting taken into consideration, a young IT professional is better off financially, but without having to sacrifice all that makes life outside work enjoyable and stimulating".
O'Neill adds that the region is also geared to families, with councils such as Bristol offering plenty of free or low-cost summer activities. And good transport links mean you can get to almost anywhere in Wales or England in a couple of hours, and the airports fly to a wide range of international destinations.
This was first published in April 2008