If you click on a link and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. Read our editorial policy.

Autodesk's Matthew Jeffery

The talent acquisition expert on skills and education in the UK

The issues of skills and education aren't far from the minds of many of the games industry's business leaders in the UK, and the challenge of competition from other territories and their fiscal incentives regularly makes headlines.

One man who's seen the situation develop close-up is Matthew Jeffery, who recently joined Autodesk as head of Talent Acquisition for EMEA and Global Talent Brand - and held a similar post at EA for many years prior to that. Here he explains why industry should be more positive about the UK's assets, and why students need to research their paths into the business more carefully than ever before.

GamesIndustry.biz Since we first discussed this issue three years ago, a lot's been said on the challenges of education and skills in the UK. What's been happening in that time?
Matthew Jeffrey

The interesting this is that in those three years we've seen changes both within the industry, and the quality of talent we're looking to hire. The changes within the industry, particularly targeted on the UK, are that the country has fallen a little bit behind in the development league tables - so we're currently in position four.

There's been a lot of discussion about tax breaks and incentives to work in the UK - but at the same time there's been a huge discussion about the Skills Review, what skills we have here, and the publication of the Livingstone Hope Review and the large number of pointers to the best way forward.

It's interesting though, when I look at things, I still reflect on the quality of the UK talent pool. If you look at the industry and where it's hiring from, I think the UK has a lot to sell in the world market - and sometimes that's underplayed; particularly in the current environment.

So if you were to take the perspective of an internal investor when they look at the UK, they're looking at the publicity and media buzz about slipping down the league tables and take a judgement on that. Then they look at all the chatter about skills, that we don't have the right skills for the games industry, and so on. But - the video games business is a great industry, so where are the growth areas?

Montreal is one of the big areas, which obviously has great tax breaks, but it's a very squeezed talent pool of experienced gaming staff. Already in Montreal they're looking to where they get new staff from, and having to attract people from the UK and cherry-pick them.

But what's often overlooked is the cost of relocating an individual, their family, getting them settled into a lifestyle - that's a tough thing for a company to do, and it's a large cost. So when we look at things we have to remember that yes, there are tax breaks, but then there are also lots of costs involved in relocation. So Montreal is pretty stretched and needs to bring in outside talent.

Toronto is a huge growth area as well and has a small, niche games background - it's got a very strong talent pool in film with strong universities, but again it's looking at hiring in individuals... and again, from the UK. You have to ask yourself sometimes that if the UK's talent pool isn't that strong - as has been made out - why are these companies cherry-picking consistently from the UK?

The last area is India, with more huge growth. But when you compare it to the UK, it's not really ready for full-scale console development with respect to the gaming sector. It's great in terms of animation, art and some of the QA and testing areas.

Therefore, when you look at the UK, we should be poised for growth - we have got a great talent pool and we need to champion more about what we're doing, and not lose sight of what we have already.

GamesIndustry.biz A lot of the publicity tends to be negative because there are senior figures who would no doubt lament the better tax climate elsewhere - but talking about the UK, what specifically are those skills and qualities that the country has, that are so popular for other regions?
Matthew Jeffrey

Well, you only have to look at some of the great games that have been designed and produced in the UK over the past year - companies like Criterion, with the latest Need For Speed game, that's rightly seen as the best Need For Speed in the series. Obviously there's the Grand Theft Auto series, and a whole host of others.

There's great art being produced here, with great designers working on these games, that the world wants to attract - there's no doubt. Hence your various companies in Toronto and Montreal are going to pinpoint the UK - and because it's quite unsettled in terms of some of the publicity, they'll be able to attract those individuals across.

So we need to remind ourselves that we do have strong universities in the UK; we have great experienced talent; but also our companies need to be more focused on how we attract, retain and keep that best talent - particularly here in the UK.

GamesIndustry.biz Obviously there are trade associations in the UK that are lobbying the government to create more of an even playing field for development, and part of that lobbying must inevitably be about getting across the message that action must be taken. But the flipside of that is a bit of a negative perception of the business environment.
Matthew Jeffrey

We just need to focus on the positives, particularly in the skills arena - what we have to offer moving forwards. There are challenges there; but there are challenges in every market - I've mentioned those in Montreal and Toronto, in terms of getting talent in.

When you look at what we need to be doing - and what's key for us at Autodesk - is what's happening with the graduates. When a graduate looks at the degree they're going to study, that's a critical choice. Does that stand them in the best position to get a job after they finish that degree? That's a big area.