Scotland’s skills-strapped technology sector is calling for decisive action to ensure future access to foreign workers in the wake of the decision for the UK to leave the European Union.
A survey of members of ScotlandIS, the trade body for the digital tech industry, found three-quarters believe the Brexit decision will negatively impact their ability to bring in skilled staff. This is an acute concern for the sector, where an estimated 10,000 new people are needed every year.
We want the UK and Scottish governments to take immediate action on skills and productivityPolly Purvis, ScotlandIS
The same proportion expect Brexit will have a negative effect on both sales and customer confidence, and 62 per cent anticipate it will now be harder to boost sales overseas. Respondents were more evenly split on the question of their ability to attract growth capital, with 53 per cent expecting a negative impact versus 47 per cent predicting no change or a positive impact.
ScotlandIS is calling on government to help tackle “Brexit inertia” brought about by political and economic uncertainty. Chief executive Polly Purvis said firms are particularly seeking reassurance about the status of EU citizens currently working in the UK.
“While negotiations on eventual exit will take time, we want the UK and Scottish governments to take immediate action on skills and productivity, to create a competitive workforce truly capable of meeting today’s and tomorrow’s challenges with a clear commitment to digital skills education for everyone,” she said. “This will be more important than ever in a post-Brexit business environment.”
Scotland’s growing digital technology industry has been facing a skills shortage for a number of years. Fewer than half of those needed – just 3,000 to 4,000 people – take up new careers in the sector on an annual basis.
ScotlandIS says all EU citizens currently living and working in the UK should be given indefinite leave to remain. Brexit negotiators also need to find a solution that allows easy access to EU workers in the future.
Other key priorities include investment in digital connectivity projects to boost productivity; funding for research and academia; harmonised business law and regulation; and continued access to overseas markets.
On the latter, ScotlandIS says the “ideal outcome” is continued access to the European Single Market. Failing that, the next-best result would be tariff-free trade arrangements with EU countries.
Asked about their prospects for the coming 12 months, 41 per cent of those surveyed said they expect the business environment to deteriorate. A further 8 per cent predicted things will get “considerably worse”.
“Digital technologies can help all sectors of the economy to increase productivity through, for example, business and process transformation, e-commerce and the increased use of data analytics to inform decision-making,” Purvis added.
“This represents an exceptional opportunity for our industry.”