TIGA's recipe for recruitment success in 2014

TIGA's recipe for recruitment success in 2014

By Richard Wilson

January 16th 2014 at 1:00PM

Trade body calls for best practice from recruiters and less restrictive immigration laws

One of TIGA’s goals has always been to encourage the professionalisation of the UK’s games industry. Professionalisation is not about dressing up in a shirt and tie, but rather the continual investment in and development of improved leadership and management skills and continuous learning and development by games businesses generally.

As indeed I have argued on these pages before, the most common causes of failure in many industries are weaknesses in leadership and management. This applies to recruitment as much as it does any other area of business.

TIGA seeks to provide its members, both start-ups and more established businesses alike, with access to expert business advice, both general and specific. To that end, we worked with David Smith at Interactive Selection and a number of developers to publish a thorough best practice guide to selection and recruitment. It covers a range of best practice guidelines, including how to prepare for a major hire and the paperwork involved in any appointment, whether junior or senior, as well as how best to manage the interview, offer and (hopefully) acceptance stages of the process.

If you are interested in receiving the TIGA Guide to Recruitment & Selection in the Games Industry, whether you’re an indie, start-up or any other growing game developer or publisher, please do get in touch to request a copy.

While the games industry and indeed other sectors should adopt best practice recruitment and selection policies, it is important that the UK Government creates an environment that enables businesses to select and hire effectively and efficiently. Unfortunately, this is not currently the case.

There is a general agreement that the UK government needs to do more to help small tech businesses and start-ups, especially in our sector. However, there seems to be a gap between the willingness to support new tech businesses and an awareness of what it takes for them to grow.

At TIGA we are concerned immigration tax and restrictive legislation could threaten the competitiveness of the UK's smaller games businesses in a global market. This is because it unfairly restricts the ability to hire talent from abroad, needed to overcome the current UK tech and development skills gap.

For many specialist businesses in the UK game development sector, hiring highly skilled specialist talent from around the world is critical for growth. Employers in our industry have been experiencing skills shortages and sometimes simply cannot recruit the requisite highly skilled people.

Successive governments, employers, universities, schools, education and training providers have all worked, and continue to work, to address skill shortages and skill gaps in the UK.

For example, I’m pleased to say that TIGA is a member of BUGS - a live network connecting UK video game businesses directly with the best UK video game students, making it easier for you to find local talent at the standard you need. Think LinkedIn for the best game development students in the UK, with the crucial difference that, on the BUGS website, every graduate also has a portfolio of complete games, allowing you to see what they’ve actually made, and what their specific role on the development team was. Click here for more information and to sign up to the BUGS network for free.

Nonetheless, there is no quick fix. Ameliorating skill shortages and skill gaps takes time and determination. This makes David Cameron's sabre rattling in the FT, as well as Jeremy Hunt's proposal to charge immigrants extra for using NHS services (even if they are paying taxes in the UK) cause for concern.

I also think it’s worth speaking up in defence of our Polish and Romanian colleagues here. In spite of David Cameron’s rather negative take, Poland is an important country and shares a broadly liberal policy outlook with the UK. Similarly just last year TIGA visited Romania to liaise with its new games industry trade association and to share best practice. Migration within the EU can be beneficial for all sides and working with Central and Eastern European countries can be advantageous for the UK.

Highly restrictive immigration policies, unless implemented very carefully and intelligently, could hamper the growth of many UK specialist technology businesses and game developers, threatening their competitiveness in a global market.

Just as night follows day, the tougher immigration policy becomes so the harder and more costly it is for UK-owned games businesses to fill the skills gap by hiring in the talent they need from abroad, especially from outside the EU.

In specialised development fields it is not foreign nationals competing against UK citizens for jobs or driving down salaries; it is UK enterprises competing against businesses from around the world for the best and brightest talent. It is already easier for some of our competitors (for example, Canada) to recruit from outside their borders than it is for UK businesses.

In the case of some specialist roles we are dependent on skilled migrants to help high tech game developers to grow and to actually employ more British people. Migrants can also help to improve the skills of indigenous workers. For example, a UK studio might seek to recruit someone with online/multi-player programming skills from outside of the EU because such skills are in short supply in the domestic labour market. With this key individual, the studio could then build a team around her. The role would be to plan the online component and execute this plan via their team, investing time in the quality of their work and transferring technical knowledge, which enhances the skills of other staff in the business. Many highly skilled specialists from outside the UK further contribute by lecturing at universities and setting projects for students, thereby increasing lecturer knowledge. In short, migration can have a multiplying effect on employment and knowledge transfer in the video game business.

Take one of our Scottish members, Codeplay, an Edinburgh based business and an internationally recognised expert in advanced optimising technologies for computer and video game graphics. Codeplay operate in a highly specialised niche field, working with global technology giants like ARM to create, for example, graphics compilers that make their chipsets run faster and more efficiently.

This is a fantastic example of Britain's intellectual contribution to the progress of bleeding-edge technology around the world. Yet Codeplay is finding it increasingly challenging to take advantage of the opportunities it has to hire really talented people. The business is missing out because a talented person can make a big difference to the opportunities available to a specialist technology business. Competitors in countries with more open immigration rules can quickly take advantage of the availability of talented people looking for an interesting place to work.

It is becoming increasingly expensive, slow and difficult to employ top non-UK development talent, once they've finished studying at UK universities. It used to be the case that if a student studied at a UK university, UK businesses could hire them for two years, and then apply for a work permit. This helped a great deal as it meant businesses could hire talented graduates straight out university without too much paperwork. This has now been stopped, and highly qualified, highly skilled people who have studied here and want to work here have no choice but to leave if they can't find a job extremely quickly. (Indeed, the Government's migration policy is also hindering the potential of our higher education sector. The UK is the second most popular market for overseas students after the USA. Yet this export success story is being undermined by the Government's clampdown on overseas students studying in the UK).

It is our development businesses and not just the potential employee that get drawn into the bureaucracy too. The backlog of immigration cases is very long, the process of hiring the person you want is expensive, and the time spent on this activity can be significant especially for smaller UK developers. These employers are already looking at significant up-front costs to hiring a non-UK citizen, even if they are already in the country. Our members tell us that fees for processing immigration paperwork can exceed £500, not even accounting for the time it takes to fill in the forms and process the administration. In reality, especially with students, it's the business owner that ends up having to pay for this.

UK developers also sometimes need to hire people from the countries that they want to export to. This does not just mean local sales and marketing people, but engineers who can liaise with engineers in other countries on highly complex projects. If UK devs cannot do this, then their ability to grow will be hindered.  

Game dev businesses are not typically seeking to hire from overseas to save money. Instead, they look outside the EU in order to find rare and specialist staff who are capable of doing the job that needs to be done. Of course UK employers will typically seek to employ UK citizens,  but this issue is down to UK business owners often not having a choice, because of skills shortages, and thus dealing with the reality of that situation in the manner most conducive to sustainable growth.

Few people doubt that the UK needs some immigration controls. However, if the UK is to protect and enhance its high tech, highly skilled video game sector then we need smart policy that responds to the complex realities of modern business.

If this is an issue that has or could affect your business, then we’d like to hear from you. We are in constant dialogue with The Government and with the media more generally, so if you think there’s a case to be made and you want your voice to be heard, now is the time to speak up.

I and everyone at TIGA wishes you the best of luck with your recruitment efforts, and with some dedication to best practice from us, and a smart immigration policy from them, we can hope for a successful 2014 for us all.