Movin’ On Up

British politician Norman (now Lord) Tebbit, aside from bearing the brunt of an IRA bomb plot, is perhaps most famous for imploring the British unemployed at the height of Thatcherism to ‘get on their bikes’ in order to find work.  It was a statement that served to promote an ideology centred on the principle of social mobility. This was the 1980s – the age of the upwardly mobile yuppie; of enterprise culture; of free market economics; and an unstinting belief that workers could, should and would migrate across the British Isles in order to access opportunity and generate personal wealth.

More than 30 years on, and in a country with a workforce 5 times greater than that of the UK, mobility is very much back on the agenda.  In fact, it has been the single most recurring discussion point with corporate real estate executives so far.

The mobility debate is three-sided.  It encompasses

1. Worker mobility in sourcing jobs (the Tebbit position).
2. The mobility afforded to workers in undertaking their day jobs and the impacts on productivity.
3. Corporate mobility as a means of getting the job done quickly and cost effectively.

Lets deal with this first aspect of mobility today and leave the others for a raining day (I’m off to Portland tonight, so that day wont be far behind readers!)

For the household names of tech situated in Silicon Valley, the stellar growth trajectory described in my last blog is renewing (or perhaps more accurately intensifying) a war for talent.  It’s making those responsible for keeping operations sustained and scalable– notably but not exclusively CRE teams – think again about where talent is located and what the various preferences of that talent are.  It is raising new concerns and interest in labour market demographics both now, in the future and across the globe.  It is somewhat ironic that ten years ago, my first major piece of research at Jones Lang LaSalle (which coincidentally followed a trip to the west coast) was the development of UK focused labour market model capable of identifying hot-spots or concentrations of certain worker or talent types.  It may be time to go retro people!

Of course finding accurate and consistent labour market data on a global scale is the researchers equivalent of finding Lord Lucan.  But it’s a challenge we might all face.  Two tech companies in the last 3 hours have quizzed me on the demographics of London.  They have been interested to understand where concentrations of certain skill types can be found and, critically, how open creative and engineering talent in London is to mobilising across the city in order to secure opportunities with their companies.

But there is also a belief within these discussions that the sheer status of these tech sector brands when combined with an understanding of the work styles and value systems of the talent they are trying to secure, might support a ‘build it and they will come’ strategy.  Here brands act as talent magnets sucking in workers that, whilst having no desire to be long-term mono-company workers, do actively seek opportunities that rapidly advance skills-sets and bring different cultural experiences. In this sense it’s not a debate just about talent and transportation in mature markets such as London.  It is as much about markets like Krakow, Budapest, Tallin, Warsaw, Stockholm and how through a fusion of company and city culture, a new tech sector Diaspora can be created.  Fascinating stuff.

Conversation over, I returned to my car and driver Jose (remember him?) On the journey back down Highway 101 towards the glistening skyline of San Francisco, we discuss in broad terms this very issue of mobility.  I enquired as to how widely he had travelled in the US.  His response was that he had only ever been out of California once and that was to attend a bachelor party in Vegas.  It just goes to show that whilst mobility is increasingly central to highly technical employees and employers in the fast moving and fast growing sectors, its not a pressure or indeed option for all – something Mr Tebbit might have neglected to consider back in the 1980s.