Academy will link industry and academia, says Chris Brodie
WE ARE used to hearing that today’s young people are “digital natives” – imbued with the skills needed to use the latest technology having grown up in a digital age. From interaction with friends to learning or shopping, much of their lives happen in a digital space.
Scotland is at the forefront of this market, from homegrown success stories such as Skyscanner to global giants such as Amazon, whose Scottish development centre creates new features and websites for the firm worldwide.
JP Morgan last month announced plans to create 500 new IT jobs in Glasgow over the next three years, while Edinburgh’s Codebase tech hub is already home to 50 start-ups and emerging firms.
But despite the rapid pace of technological change, the ICT and digital technologies sector faces a critical problem in attracting people into the industry with the skills employers are looking for.
This is a global issue, with firms everywhere reporting difficulties in recruitment. The EU estimates there will be more than 100,000 job openings every year for those with the right ICT and digital skills.
Last year, Skills Development Scotland (SDS) launched a Skills Investment Plan for the sector, backed by £6.6 million of funding from the Scottish Government through the Digital Scotland Business Excellence Partnership.
The industry-led plan identified the potential for 11,000 job opportunities each year until 2020, often paying well above average, and yet many people have little knowledge of the jobs available.
For this reason, the plan aims to not only respond to the immediate needs of the sector, but to raise the profile of the sector and its careers, to broaden the future pipeline of talent, and to make the education system more responsive to the needs of employers.
The immediate need for skills in particular is to be addressed through the creation of a digital skills academy for the first time in Scotland. Presenting a complementary offering to existing college and university provision, the academy aims to offer an industry-led response to skills shortages in the sector, creating a flexible source of training for individuals and employers offering a wide range of interventions.
Reaching across the whole of Scotland, the academy also has the potential to create a lasting and positive effect by bringing academia and vocational training closer to the needs of industry. Running in tandem with this are initiatives aimed at raising the profile of the industry. A key feature of this is the development of a marketing campaign aimed at improving awareness of the opportunities that exist.
Aiming to create a broader and deeper understanding of what the industry offers, it will be underpinned by enhanced careers information, advice and guidance in every Scottish secondary school, along with our award-winning web service, My World of Work, which now has more than 490,000 registered users.
One important element is showing that the industry isn’t just open to graduates. While Scotland’s colleges and universities produce around 4000 qualified students annually, there are a further 500 young people in ICT Modern Apprenticeships, and SDS is encouraging more young people and employers to consider this route as a way of broadening the talent pipeline.
In partnership with e-Skills Scotland we recently launched a new Modern Apprenticeship in Information Security. With the market for information and cyber security services expected to grow by close to 10 per cent a year, there are opportunities now for businesses and individuals with the relevant skills and experience.
SDS will act to bring together industry and education so employers can form partnerships with schools to ensure our young people are better prepared for their future careers, and we are beginning work on offering enhanced careers information, advice and guidance to younger pupils so they are more informed when making subject choices.
Delivering on these initiatives will require concerted effort from across the public and private sectors, but taken as a whole, they have the potential to cement Scotland’s place as a world-leader in the ICT and digital technologies industry, turning today’s digital natives into tomorrow’s digital pioneers.
• Chris Brodie is lead head of Key Sector Development, Skills Development Scotland