Seeking greener grass in Celtic fields

regional focus With many IT workers looking for new opportunities and a better quality of life outside the South East, we look at what Wales and Scotland have to offer

Scotland and Wales are proving increasingly attractive destinations for the 90% of IT workers in the South East considering relocating some time in the next five years, according to a survey of 725 IT professionals by recruitment website

More than 60% of those surveyed had their sights set on a role at the new Royal Bank of Scotland headquarters in Edinburgh.

Rhona Hutchon, associate director for IT at recruitment consultancy Hudson's Scotland operations, says Edinburgh has always played host to a strong financial sector employing many IT professionals. But Glasgow is also on the up, with several high-profile financial services organisations, such as Morgan Stanley, relocating there in the past few years.

Hutchon says the region is also benefiting from an investment boom in early-stage technology companies.

This view is backed up by the Scottish Technology Industry Survey by industry body ScotlandIS, which found that 90% of companies expected to recruit more IT staff in 2007-2008, with average headcount growing by 10%. This comes on top of an increase in demand for IT staff in Scotland of nearly 10% last year, according to the Computer Weekly/SSL Quarterly Survey of Appointments Data and Trends, and vacancies in Wales were also up during 2006.

Skills in demand

The skills in demand in Scotland include: application developers working with Java,, .net and C# systems integration security customer relationship management and datawarehousing and IT sales and marketing staff who can become experts in niche products, says Hutchon.

There is also demand for staff skilled in technologies that have been introduced to Scotland by relocating companies. "For example, one relocating bank uses Adabas Natural, but there are no other Adabas Natural sites in Scotland," says Hutchon. "So we are having to look for people outside Scotland who want to relocate here."

Welsh investment

In Wales, the engineering and manufacturing sector used to dominate the IT roles available, but those sectors have declined over the past few years. The National Assembly for Wales has worked hard to compensate for the loss of jobs in these areas by encouraging finance and technology companies to move into the region, and it has also become a major employer of IT staff itself.

Alex Rea, a recruitment sales manager at Computer People whose territory covers Wales and the West, says, "Application development skills such as J2EE, Java and .net are in demand. So are network and infrastructure skills to support call centres for financial services companies and government-backed infrastructure projects."

Although employers in Scotland and Wales may be looking for similar skills, their likelihood of successfully filling positions is very different.

Salaries may be lower in Scotland than in Southern England, but the gap is closing, and Hutchon says IT professionals can gain plenty in return for the drop in salary.

"It is easier to achieve a good work/life balance: we cannot get candidates to consider commuting from Edinburgh to Glasgow, or vice versa, even though it is only 45 minutes by train, because they do not have to travel that far to find work," she says.

Hutchon adds that the cost of living in Scotland means that people can afford to buy a house with a garden in Edinburgh, and they can get out of the city and into the countryside in 15 minutes.

The situation is even more favourable in Glasgow. "Salaries there are similar to those in Edinburgh, but property prices are still much lower in Glasgow, making jobs there very attractive. And there is a real vibrancy in entertainment and lifestyle in both cities."

In contrast, says Rea, salaries in Wales generally compare unfavourably with those in England. In more junior positions, contractors, in particular, are likely to prefer the long commute to Bristol, Gloucester and Cheltenham in return for rates that can be half as much again above those in Newport and Swansea.

"It is not so bad in Cardiff, or if the employer is a big international company that can afford to pay the rates to attract people," says Rea. "But smaller companies and the public sector, which pay salaries at levels in line with those typically offered in Wales for other kinds of jobs, really struggle to recruit IT people, especially in more junior positions.

"Salaries lag well behind those offered in Bristol despite having risen by 30% over the past year."

Training opportunities

Because it is so difficult to recruit into more junior positions, Welsh employers are more likely to take on staff without all the necessary skills and train them.

Rea says, "The public sector, in particular, constantly complains that its staff are poached once they are trained, because they can earn £10,000 more elsewhere." As a result, Welsh employers generally offer excellent ongoing training for staff at all levels, alongside rapid promotion, in an attempt to hold on to good employees.

In Scotland, by contrast, Hutchon says, "You have to be well networked and plan your career more carefully in advance than in London and the South East, because there are not as many opportunities at senior level. Of course, there are not as many candidates either, so competition is less fierce. But the Scottish IT community is very relationship-driven: you cannot afford not to be involved and giving something back."

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