Big up the Northern Powerhouse!

Published: 4 May 2016

But has anyone told London?

Last week Berwick Partners, Odgers Berndtson and PwC held our annual North West Board Dinner.  Key speaker was Paul Drechsler, Chairman of the £400m Bibby Line Group, President of the CBI and Chair of Teach First.  Paul gave an inspiring speech, passionately promoting the opportunities of the Northern Powerhouse.  The development of media city and the tech businesses migrating to it, the direct flights between Shanghai and Manchester, the infrastructure developments….dare I say it, HS2??  I could not agree more.  Since returning to the North West after three years in London I’ve been delighted to see how industrious and commercial the North is, the great number of entrepreneurial businesses as well as dynamic PLC’s and the passion to drive this Northern Powerhouse. 

One thing troubled me though.  The Northern Powerhouse, and what it had to offer, was only apparent to me when I came back to the North West.  Well, you might say, “have I been sitting in a cave somewhere?”  Well a metaphorical one perhaps.  I had been working for three years in London, recruiting senior financial leaders into commercial businesses.  What’s the relevance of this?  Talent. 

My business is to identify those talented future leaders who are hidden in the market and secure them for my clients.  I have recruited in the North West and London, albeit always in Financial Leadership, but I firmly believe that this point is valid across all professions.  I don’t think that the opportunities of the Northern Powerhouse are visible enough to talented professionals outside of the area, London or internationally. Why?

Perception – All the good jobs are in London

Of course there are many jobs in London, but with 8.5 million people in Greater London plus everyone willing to commute, there is a huge amount of competition.  Employers can be highly selective about who they recruit, so it’s often “round peg, round hole.” If you want a challenge maybe it’s better to be sat in a more candidate led market such as the North West.

The North West not only has some excellent PLC’s and large companies such as UU, AZ, Shop Direct, Bank of America but also many entrepreneurial and private equity backed businesses, Rental Cars, Autotrader, AO, Late Rooms, UKFast, Pets at Home, Iceland to name a few.  We have media city in Salford which is attracting tech and media companies, a fantastic retail base and the distribution and business services companies to facilitate their operations. We are even seeing Banks move their operations north, and these aren’t just the back office roles.

Immigration – Australia, New Zealand, South Africa

Every day in London you get Aussies, Kiwi’s and South Africans landing with their professional qualifications, a great attitude to work and a desire to develop their career. Many have ancestry visas and chose to stay past two years or get sponsored.  You rarely see these candidates attracted outside of London, going north just means Islington.  Manchester?  Unlikely.  But why not?  It has great flights out to Europe, bags of culture… could we be doing more to attract these people before they land and set up camp in Clapham?

Culture and standard of living

I’m biased here but not only do Manchester and Liverpool have a great range of culture and arts, they also have some fantastic bars, restaurants and residential areas.  The area also has superb outdoor activities with the Peaks, Yorkshire Dales, Snowdonia and the Lake District all on the doorstep.

Awareness & Attraction  - Not about the salary

I don’t think we as a collective group of employers are doing enough to attract talent.  I do not believe that this is about paying higher salaries.  I believe that this is about selling the opportunities to really progress your career in forward thinking organisations whilst having a great standard of living.  I think we need to do this not only in London and the UK but also people choosing the UK as a base from abroad. I think we need case studies, I think we need businesses shouting about their opportunities in the North West and I think we need this visible outside Manchester.

What can North West businesses do about this?  I don’t believe it’s a quick win, or that placing an advert in the Evening Standard will instantly result in multiple relevant applications.  Firstly I think it’s worth choosing a search firm or recruitment partner carefully.  Of course I would say this, but I mean it.  Having an understanding of both markets for me has been invaluable.  So chose a firm that has a strong presence in both London and the North. A firm which knows the market in both locations, can translate the variances in salary and packages and knows which companies the best candidates are working for and why they might want to move. 

Secondly I think it’s worth investing the time in really developing an attractive, bespoke brief for your role which sells the company, opportunity and progression.  A dry job spec full of acronyms which are only really understood by people currently in the business is not likely to encourage talent.

But what do you think?  Are you someone that has relocated back North? Or are you an employer struggling to attract talent?  How can we make the great potential in the North visible to the future leader community? 

Amy Parkinson is a Consultant in the Financial Leadership Practice

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