Overcoming the scale-up recruitment challenge

Michelle Lownie, CEO of Eden Scott

By Michelle Lownie, CEO of Eden Scott 

THIS year’s Invest2Scale gathering, taking place in Edinburgh later this month, is focused on helping aspirational, revenue-generating Scottish companies grow by providing them with direct access to investors and business insights.

As businesses progress with their scaling up journey, one of the key challenges many will face is in the area of recruitment. How can they attract high calibre people with the right blend of skills, experience and personal qualities to help take a business to a global level?

Technology skills, which are critical for key scale-up sectors, are in short supply with companies currently facing strong competition when trying to recruit talent within a limited pool of suitably qualified candidates. Growth-focused companies must, therefore, develop a different mindset in how they recruit if they are to succeed in attracting the best and brightest.

While technical skills are important, it’s important to recognise that these can be developed in-house. This is especially important given the recent collapse of the Code Clan programme, which had retrained people from different backgrounds for a career in the technology sector. While Code Base stepped in to complete the training programme for its current group of students, the initiative now faces an uncertain future.

Code Clan has played such a key role as it increased the technology skills base in Scotland among people who also have useful experience to offer from their previous roles in other sectors.

It’s this broader perspective that scale-up employers need to look at when considering the type of individual who can make a strong contribution to their business. Flexibility is the key: less focus on job titles with more thought instead about the candidate’s personality and the wider skills, knowledge and attributes they can bring to a role is vital. 

Bringing in the right type of person is a particular challenge for scale-up businesses that are hiring several key people at once to support their growth journey. The merging of different cultures and approaches under a shared vision for a business can prove an extremely difficult task. Getting this wrong can be highly detrimental so it’s also essential to look beyond the potential financial contribution that a candidate might deliver and also carefully consider how they might fit it with the wider team.

Finding leaders can also present a significant challenge for scale-ups. The person behind a great business idea is not always the best person to take the business to a higher level, making it necessary to bring in outside talent to fulfil this role.

This is a common scenario for businesses with high growth potential and one that demands a firm focus on a candidate’s leadership abilities rather than their technical skills. It’s so important to consider a candidate who has the attributes of a true leader who can get the best out of a team. While they are the ones responsible for making the ultimate decisions, a true leader will trust their team to carry out the roles they’ve been brought in to deliver.

Recruitment success requires company founders to take a proactive approach where they are not afraid to involve others, including investors and business advisors, who might challenge their views on these matters. It’s important to focus on facts, data and evidence when considering potential candidates and to reflect on any challenges they might raise as part of the conversation rather than viewing this as a negative. Using facts and data as well as a degree of gut feel is often the right combination when making effective recruitment decisions.

Embedding genuine diversity within the recruitment process can also deliver success for scale-ups and should not be overlooked or marginalised. This encompasses not only gender and ethnic considerations but also diversity of background experiences. While getting the right person for a role is key, businesses that embrace diversity benefit through new perspectives and greater insights across a wider marketplace that accompanies such an approach. This will ultimately contribute towards financial success.

Supporting more scale-up businesses to reach their full potential is the aim of this month’s Invest2Scale event. While recruiting the best people to take these businesses forward is a significant challenge, getting it right can be the most important factor in maximising a company’s global growth ambitions.

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