The issue of retaining skilled international workers has hit the headlines a lot recently. It’s not long since we saw business leaders back the UK parliamentary report which claimed the rules for students remaining in Scotland post-study have become ‘too restrictive’.
It was David Watt, executive director for the Institute of Directors, who claimed that turning away skilled international workers who have received top quality education in our country is ‘nonsensical’. And it’s difficult to argue with him.
With international students comes valuable international perspective. Different methods of learning, varied life experiences, diverse cultural backgrounds and exposure to a variety of challenges all add to a “melting pot” of great ideas and outstanding talent that can only make Scotland stronger, particularly in data science.
But we are at risk of losing these great ideas and outstanding talent if we don’t make an effort to understand the value of retaining international students.
Scotland is home to 11 universities out of the 24 across the UK that offer specialized courses in data science. So it’s crucial that we promote Scotland as not just a great place for international students to study data related courses, but to settle post-graduation, too.
Scotland’s data science community is gaining momentum and we are seeing some incredibly exciting start-ups emerge, all of which have real potential to offer high-level careers in the industry. At the same time, public services like the NHS are taking on their own innovative data related projects.
Harnessing international data science talent – particularly from those who have gained from the excellent educational facilities we have to offer - allows Scottish companies to cast their net as wide as possible when it comes to recruiting ‘hard to find’ talent. Making the most of this talent will ultimately enhance our capacity for growth.
As a specialist data science recruiter, we have seen enormous interest from international students and have had great success in placing data science professionals from countries as far afield as Poland, Lithuania, Denmark, Holland, France, Hungary, India and Greece.
Yet we need to make it easier for international students to stay in Scotland and secure appropriate employment post-graduation. Hopefully, some commercially aligned and progressive legislation will soon allow the Post Study Work Visa to be more easily and readily obtained. This is the first step we should be taking as a community to help international students stay in Scotland in the long term.
Many organisations in Scotland have existing links with international organisations and trade bodies. It is crucial that these links are maintained and developed in order to highlight Scotland’s desirability as an international destination of choice for aspiring data science professionals.
It can be a difficult area to navigate so events like Data Talent Scotland – a collider event which brings together students, academia and industry - will have Talent Scotland on hand to answer questions about visas and other potential issues that skilled international data professionals may face.
It’s events like these that are part of a concerted, strategic initiative to promote the excellence in data that exists within our shores but we must always be doing more to harness this data talent and move forward with it.
If we could retain more international students in Scotland beyond graduation, we would see many more of our Data driven companies benefiting from a global workforce, which in turn will help to establish Scotland as the place to work in Data Science.
Michael Young is the CEO of MBN Solutions, a key recruiter in Scottish data science projects.