We caught up with Sarah Pawson, Founder and Managing Director of Fruition Consulting and Fruition IT, to chat about how being based in Leeds has helped shape the Fruition group’s success, the biggest challenges the tech sector faces today, and how solving the digital skills gap begins in schools.
Tell us a bit about the Fruition Group, and your role, in your own words.
I run the Fruition Group which includes Fruition IT – a tech recruitment agency – and tech consultancy, Fruition Consulting. We provide technology and recruitment solutions that are project-driven and outcome-based.
In my role as Managing Director across both businesses, I’m responsible for defining and executing our strategic direction, consulting with and providing guidance to our clients, and helping our teams to grow & develop.
What inspired you to set up the Fruition Group?
I founded my first business – Fruition IT – in 2008. Having always been driven and ambitious to succeed, and on the back of a successful career in tech recruitment, I wanted to create a business that focused on delivering an exceptional service to all who encountered us – employees, clients and candidates alike!
In 2020 we wanted to evolve our service offering and with the support of some brilliant clients we took the bold step to set up Fruition Consulting and haven’t looked back since!
Establishing Fruition Consulting was a natural progression for the company. As a result of the relationships we’d built with clients over the years, and the trust they placed in our ability to provide exceptional services, we were increasingly being asked to deliver added value. We felt that we could disrupt the existing consultancy model by offering a truly people-focused service, utilising the pool of world-class associates already at our disposal.
What do you value most about being based here in Leeds?
Easy answer – the people here in Leeds are amazing! We love being in the midst of the technology community and working in collaboration with some cool and innovative companies. We are also incredibly lucky to have many supporters and advocates of our businesses which means we’ve been able to absorb lots of varied help and advice and learn loads.
Throughout the past year, the advantages of being based in Leeds have only been magnified. Pre-Covid, our teams were heavily involved in the city’s tech networking scene – whether they were hosting JVM meetups with some of Leeds’ biggest players, or attending tech-focused networking events – all of which offered brilliant “under the bonnet” collaboration and personal development opportunities.
Post-pandemic, the sector seems hesitant to pick things back up but we’re hoping that the upcoming Leeds Digital Festival will strike a match and reignite the city’s full networking potential. As part of the Festival, Fruition will be hosting a session on the importance of Diversity and Inclusion in tech, and how organisations can support, and benefit from, full-spectrum diversity – from gender to age to ethnicity. You can sign up here.
From your unique perspective, what role will the tech sector have in the growth of the regional economy?
Leeds is firmly on the map as a City of technology. We are seeing more firms moving into the area from exciting start ups, scale ups and large corporates such as Channel 4. We are also seeing lots of London-based firms targeting our talent here, now that remote working is the norm. There’s also lots of investment and support available in Leeds that isn’t as readily available elsewhere.
As technology growth continues and the tech sector grapples with the skills shortage, we expect to see a huge increase in entry level opportunities, new apprenticeships and a greater opportunity to cross train via amazing companies like Northcoders and Leeds Codes – the job market in tech will continue to boom!
This makes Leeds an exciting place to live, with house prices being much more affordable and no longer needing to live near your work, we expect to see an increase in tech professionals and graduates moving to the area. This in turn creates many opportunities for the wider regional economy and infrastructure required to support this.
What do you see as being the biggest challenges faced by the sector today, or Fruition Consulting, currently?
Easy answer – tech skills shortage! Easy solution – there isn’t one!
2021 has created the perfect storm for the tech skills shortage, something that every organisation within the sector is battling against. Post-pandemic, people are understandably hesitant to consider a new role especially given the uncertainty around schools / nurseries and the enforced isolation periods we are experiencing.
In response to this, many companies have risen to the challenge of supporting their employees which has, in turn, really encouraged employee loyalty, so for the organisations adapting to ‘the new normal’ and putting employee needs first, we’re seeing staff retention levels rise.
The tech boom that the pandemic induced also means that we’re seeing a significant increase in huge digital transformation programmes and exciting new tech-led projects. The interest that these projects peak means that companies are able to better retain their talent, and for the sector as a whole this means that companies looking to recruit new staff are increasingly having to rely on flexible resourcing solutions (such as contractors or consultancy partners) due to the smaller pool of available talent.
The pandemic has also further exacerbated problems like underrepresentation, which has been a challenge to the industry since long before Covid-19 arrived. Nowadays, tech drives almost all industries and career paths, yet we’re still not seeing a proportionate amount of young women looking to establish careers in the field. The underrepresentation of women within the tech space coupled with an outdated discourse around what a tech career looks like mean that young people – especially young girls – just aren’t aspiring to build a career in the sector. In order to create real change and permanently shift this dialogue, we’ve got to start in schools – providing more female role models and role models from other marginalised groups, and promoting tech as a worthwhile career choice for all.
Looking back, what has been the most pivotal moment in your career?
2020 – getting through the pandemic, launching a new consultancy business during this period and experiencing the rapid growth of Fruition Consulting. To say the market has boomed is an understatement. This presents a whole different set of challenges, ensuring we have a robust infrastructure in place to support this growth. But it’s new and exciting and we’ve learnt loads along the way.
Without a doubt the launch of Fruition Consulting during a pandemic was a risk but our timing & the solution that we’re offering has been prime for the current market challenges. Launching a brand new business in the midst of a global health crisis might sound unideal, but for Fruition Consulting and the service we deliver, the timing was just right.
Of course, we can’t put it all down to luck. We’d been looking to expand our service offering for a number of years – the strong relationships we’d forged with clients, the pool of world-class associates at our disposal and the increasing requests for additional value from clients that knew what we were capable of delivering meant that a consultancy arm was a natural progression. This, coupled with the trends we see time and time again following a recession (namely, organisations looking for flexible staffing solutions), and the introduction of legislative changes like the IR35 meant that we were confident we could fulfil a gap in the market for a tech-centric, people-focused, consultancy offering.
Looking forward, what are your hopes and ambitions as a company?
We would like to continue to support the growth of the Yorkshire tech market by helping companies and individuals reach their full potential.
More specifically, we’re looking to build out our team of Associates to 100 before the year is out. When we set up Fruition Consulting, we had a great knowledge of the tech recruitment scene in Leeds and knew plenty of talented IT professionals, and today our team includes 70 highly-skilled associates. We plan to continue fostering partnerships with local and regional tech organisations that are looking to work with a consultancy that is focused on delivering time and time again.
Who, or what, has been the single biggest influence on your working life?
Having my children – Henry & Louis. When thinking about a tricky / challenging task I might want to put off, I think about my responsibility to them, take a moment to centre myself, and approach the task with a fresh mindset. They have also helped me soften in my approach – I’m a much more empathetic and understanding person generally, but also in a business sense, which for a consultancy that is people-centric, can only be a good thing.
If you’d like to find out more about what Sarah and the Fruition Consulting team are up to head over to their website, and discover more of the city’s leading digital companies on the Leeds Tech Map.