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Tech employees prioritise long-term business growth, amid ongoing market instability


New research from AI scale-up BenchSci highlights the need for companies to help employees maximise ‘the business of me’, as tech talent seeks stability and progression in uncertain times

Research from BenchSci, a world leader in AI solutions for drug discovery, has revealed new insights into the attitudes and preferences of AI, machine learning, and data professionals in the UK when looking for new employment opportunities:

  • Being a mission-driven company is regarded as “table stakes” now rather than a differentiating factor that attracts talent, as employees prioritise opportunities for personal development and career progression;
  • Amid industry volatility, talent is pragmatic – prioritising a company’s profitability over its valuation, and their salary and potential for pay rises over offers of stock options – but might be underestimating other markers of long-term company health;
  • The normalisation of hybrid working is creating both opportunities and challenges for companies seeking to address female talent’s development priorities;
  • Cultural inclusivity is paramount to attracting and retaining employees with an intersectional approach to mental health and wider wellbeing.

Vanessa Ribreau, Chief People Officer at BenchSci, said: “While the global economy continues to face challenges and instability, competition for tech talent is not slowing down. This research conducted with one of the most sought-after groups in terms of tech talent clearly shows that well-recognised names and generous salaries are no longer enough to entice the brightest talent.

“Talent are willing to invest their personal capital in the form of time, energy and labour for the right company, but only for a healthy return on their investment. Career progression and personal development are a must. The companies that will stay ahead are the ones who think of their employees as key stakeholders, not a means to an end. Being intentional about culture is the best way to create an environment where that’s possible.” 

The research asked AI and ML engineers to rank what they prioritised when looking for a new employer from stability, work environment, work arrangements, diversity, impact, mission, organisational benefits, flexibility, progression, remuneration. The latter three were ranked highest across all genders at 37%, 32%, and 32% respectively.

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The top priority among respondents when looking for a new employer are steady plans for growth (46%) and strong profit margins (43%). These ranked higher across the board than the amount of funding a company has raised (30%) and if it has a substantial cash runway (24%). 

This surprisingly pragmatic view comes as market conditions remain volatile with data from LinkedIn showing the tech turnover rate to be 13.2% – the highest of any sector. The data firmly suggests that AI and ML engineers are taking a long-term view of their careers and are willing to invest ‘personal capital’ in both themselves and the company for a significant return on their investment in the form of personal development.  

When asked about flexibility, 70% of respondents cited the ability to work flexible hours as crucial. Hybrid working with an equal balance of office-based and remote work was the most popular working model, preferred by 55% of respondents. Meanwhile, access to self-defined pathways (62%) and learning and development opportunities (60%) were the top priorities among all respondents when asked about factors affecting career progression, which suggests business leaders will need to look carefully at how development needs can be met in the new ‘work from anywhere, anytime’ environment.

The challenge of embracing flexibility while still delivering the tools and opportunities needed to progress appears especially acute when examining some significant differences between the preferences of male and female respondents, with women particularly showing greater interest than their male counterparts in opportunities to shadow senior colleagues as part of career progression plans. While female respondents skewed younger than the males, isolating respondents aged 18-34 highlighted a clear gender split – these early- and mid-career professionals might all be expected to want access to senior colleagues, but only 47% of men aged 18-34 cited shadowing as a top-three progression priority, versus 68% of women in the same age group. This perhaps influenced the attitudes of this age group towards fully-remote working – while 63% of male respondents aged 18-34 said they would be willing to accept fully-remote working, just 25% of women would do so. 

Elizabeth Hanson, Director of Engineering, Data Delivery at BenchSci, said: “This research has surfaced some very revealing data points, particularly in the current context and economic climate. Despite widespread murmurings of employees being flighty, perhaps as a result of the pandemic and the current recessionary environment, the data firmly shows that the AI workforce is still thinking long-term. Engineers specifically are looking for companies where they can invest their time, energy, and expertise in return for growth opportunities – both financial and developmental. This is the trend I’ve seen while hiring and searching for roles myself. Workplaces that meet these needs will not only attract the best talent, but retain them too.”

The research was conducted by VansonBourne of 200 AI/ML and data engineering professionals in the UK. BenchSci has opened its first UK office based in Cambridge and will keep growing its UK team in 2023. 


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