Scotland’s digital technologies industry, which covers everything from web design to software development and telecommunications, is facing a critical skills shortage. Over 70,000 people work in this vibrant, fast growing sector but a further 10,000 are needed each year to support growth and fill jobs as others retire.
Young people, the so-called ‘digital natives,’ are an important stream of new talent. They are also avid users of digital technologies through smart phones, tablets, games consoles and PCs. Despite this, they rarely hear about the career opportunities our industry offers.
Scotland’s colleges and universities produce around 4000 suitably qualified students annually with another 500 young people in Modern Apprenticeships. We need many more to bridge the skills gap.
We have campaigned for some years to highlight this challenge and welcome initiatives like the Skills Investment Plan. The syllabus has also been revamped and work is underway to introduce the basics of coding from the earliest age.
But more needs to be done to inspire teenagers and ensure they are aware of skills and subject choices they need to take up a career in this highly-paid industry. With graduate starting salaries edging north of £25k, pay is well above average.
This morning, ScotlandIS will welcome over 350 secondary pupils and 30 teachers to our annual ScotSoft Schools Debate. It’s a rare opportunity to discuss the hottest topics in the industry with top entrepreneurs and hopefully the audience will be enthused by what they hear. That goes for the teachers as well as their students.
So often teachers translate the term ICT into word processing, email and spreadsheets. Too few tell their students about exciting companies like Skyscanner and Rockstar North – global businesses based in Scotland.
If we are to make a difference at a crucial point in their education, we need to give secondary school teachers access to up to date information on the jobs, salaries, working conditions and the opportunities to travel that the industry provides. They are in a privileged position and with enough ammunition it shouldn’t be a hard sell.
• Polly Purvis is chief executive of ScotlandIS, the trade body for the digital technologies industry in Scotland.