Michalina Stępień, HR manager, HL Tech
Michalina Stępień, HR manager, HL Tech, talks to the BPCC’s Michael Dembinski about how a major British investor perceives Warsaw as a base for its IT hub, in the face of the massive global turbulence that has occurred since that hub opened in 2017 – and the specific challenges that this turbulence has caused for the HR function in the tech sector.
Since opening its Warsaw operation, HL Tech has always placed great importance on its employer branding. How successful has this strategy been in terms of your recruitment and retention goals? Does being a FTSE 100-listed company help you on the Polish labour market?
Whenever you mention Hargreaves Lansdown, our parent company, to anyone in the UK, there’d be few people who wouldn’t know it. It’s the industry leader, with 40 years of experience in the investment market, with clients’ trust and continuous growth. However, since Hargreaves Lansdown operates solely in the UK market, Polish candidates usually don’t have that recognition. That’s also why, until now we have concentrated our employer branding on being an expert in the IT industry, with innovative technologies and projects, while being a great place to work with an amazing atmosphere and culture. However, for some time now, we are putting more emphasis on our connection and all benefits that come about from being a part of HL – the UK’s number-one platform for private investors.
Creating a single mind-set among employees from two disparate cultures, in two offices separated by over 1,000 miles, must be a huge challenge for HR. How do you ensure that someone from Bristol gets along with someone from Warsaw and vice-versa?
We achieve this through clear communication channels, shared values and goals and by encouraging collaboration between the two offices. We work in cross-functional teams, where joint projects, task forces, and shared resources help employees learn to appreciate each other’s strengths and contributions. We also find time to meet face-to-face, travel between both locations, and participate in conferences or company events. It allows us to learn from one another and build stronger working relationships. Ultimately, by prioritising communication and collaboration, a cohesive and productive team can be formed despite geographic and cultural differences contributions.
How does post-pandemic work look like now at HL Tech? How many of your staff work remotely, how many are in the office, do you have ‘anchor days’ or other forms of motivation and team-building to ensure optimal cooperation?
Covid has certainly changed the way we work. We started hiring candidates from all over Poland (currently 33% of our staff works fully remotely). The rest, from Warsaw or nearby locations, works in a hybrid model, visiting the office at least once a month and adjusting the rest of the working days to their needs. Only a few colleagues work regularly from the office. However, we create different initiatives to encourage more visits like company breakfasts, charity lunches, evening integrations, and social days twice a month. Luckily our office is very integration and collaboration friendly with board games, pool and table football. We have even our own bar with a beer tab for company events.
To what extent is diversity and inclusivity important to HL Tech? What can the tech sector be doing to encourage more women to develop and test software? Are you hiring, for example, Ukrainian and Belarusian employees? Indeed, are you looking further abroad? Is it now getting easier to take on foreign nationals in Warsaw?
In both UK and Polish branches of HL, diversity and inclusion are essential values that we actively promote and prioritise. Our commitment to D&I is reflected in our hiring practices, company culture, the way we conduct our business, create standards and simply work with each other. When hiring, our main focus is on talent, not their ethnicity, skin colour, beliefs, gender etc. And yes, we do employ colleagues from Ukraine and Belarus. We even have a colleague from Japan. In terms of encouraging more women to develop and test software, we recognise that there is a gender imbalance in the tech sector. To address this, we actively seek to attract and retain female employees and offer mentorship and networking opportunities to support their professional growth.
To what extent will AI reduce demand for IT staff as computers learn how to program for themselves? Will AI create new jobs in IT, such as prompt engineers, who can write prose rather than code?
With the enormous speed of AI evolution, especially during the last few months, I often say, that by the end of this year, we will be living in a different reality. There is no way it will not influence our work. The rise of AI may impact the demand for some traditional IT roles, especially the junior ones, but I’m sure AI will also create new opportunities as companies seek to leverage these technologies. Additionally, the rise of AI and automation may create new challenges that require innovative solutions, leading to the emergence of new job roles in the IT sector. It is HR’s responsibility to anticipate these changes and ensure that our employees are equipped with the necessary skills to thrive in this evolving landscape.
What should the Polish government do in terms of skills training – are Polish schools and universities adequately preparing young people with the analytical and problem-solving skills needed in tomorrow’s labour market, in particular in IT?
The Polish government must address the gap between skills taught in schools and skills required by employers. Investment in initiatives that develop analytical and problem-solving skills, and supporting training programs for practical experience is necessary. Businesses should do their part by working with universities and schools to revise the curriculum in a way that would align it with labour market needs – that would also be helpful. Taking a proactive approach to addressing the shortcomings of the education system can create a skilled workforce capable of meeting industry demands. By doing so, the government can help prepare young people for the job market.
It has long been said that global corporations see Poland as a great place to do tech, not because of the salaries, but because of the skills. The salary differential between Poland and the UK is shrinking year by year. Although today there’s still a difference that’s worth arbitraging, how long do you think it will take before IT-sector salary levels in Poland catch up with those in the UK – and will Poland be able to compete on skills alone?
It’s difficult to predict how long Poland will remain an attractive destination for companies looking to hire, as it will depend on various factors such as economic conditions, government policies, and global competition. However, Poland has several other advantages that make it an attractive destination for companies, including language proficiency, cultural similarities, cost of living and a favourable business environment. While skills are important, these additional factors can also contribute to Poland’s attractiveness as a location for foreign investment. Therefore, Poland may be able to compete not only on skills alone, but also on other factors that are crucial for businesses looking to expand their operations.