Phil Worms: Scotland’s tech sector needs young people

Scotlan'd tech sector has an abundance of opportunities for young people. Picture: TSPL

Scotlan'd tech sector has an abundance of opportunities for young people. Picture: TSPL

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SCOTLAND’S digital technologies industry is going through a purple patch and the career opportunities available to our young people are immense.

From software engineer to data scientist, web developer to forensic computer analyst and many more, the industry offers a huge variety of highly skilled roles, and a bright future for those who choose this path.

More than 84,000 people are currently employed in jobs such as software development, data, digital agency, telecoms, cloud and ICT services roles across the country and demand is set to increase as the world becomes ever more connected.

Indeed, it is estimated that the industry requires an additional 11,000 individuals each year to fill digital technologies jobs in Scotland.

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While some more established industries are experiencing a decline, our sector is going from strength to strength. And yet, we are struggling to recruit at the rate required and a shortfall in new entrants threatens to slow future growth.

Industry and public sector are working together to address the skills issue before it becomes a limiting factor for Scotland’s tech potential. One of the outcomes of the Skills Investment Plan for our industry is the launch of Digital Xtra, a dedicated fund to support extracurricular computer science related activities for young people aged 16 and under.

It is now accepting funding applications for projects to be running between now and March 2017.

Skills Development Scotland, ScotlandIS, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and Education Scotland worked in partnership to develop this new funding approach. The size of the Digital Xtra fund for 2016/17 is £250,000 and will be funded in its first year by Scottish Government’s

Digital Scotland Business Excellence Partnership. In future years it is anticipated that industry, employers and other funders will contribute, making this a sustainable approach.

Telling young people that an industry has good job prospects is not enough to change behaviour.

For years, we’ve focused on teaching young people to be customers and consumers, rather than creators and innovators. Doing so anchors them at the wrong end of the digital technology food chain, and steadily pushes jobs and the industry overseas as we fail to grow our talent pipeline.

It’s vital that we turn this around, encouraging young people to engage with digital technology,

making them comfortable and confident enough to take the first steps to becoming makers as

well as users of digital technology. They get the message across that digital technology does not begin and end with switching on a phone or playing an Xbox, nor is it a ‘boring’ choice.

Practical, fun and challenging extracurricular activities are an incredibly powerful means of getting young people engaged and firing up their imaginations. Outside the various pressures of the classroom, there can be more freedom to think creatively and try things they might otherwise have thought impossible.

We understand the value of these projects and believe that every single child in Scotland should have the opportunity to get involved, wherever they live.

A key priority for Digital Xtra is to address any inequality of provision by revising how funding is provided.

This should help overcome barriers and increase participation. A panel including representatives from industry, education and the Scottish Government will judge applications on their merit, prioritising those that meet the fund’s aims of scalability, sustainability, innovation and value for money.

This is not an additional funding opportunity for ‘business as usual’. When the deadline for

applications comes round on 17 June we want to see projects that take extracurricular computing activities to areas and groups that do not normally benefit, whether that is because of social or geographic factors.

Changing the status quo also means getting new players involved. We want to hear from a wide range of organisations with the ability to deliver sustainable and long-term projects.

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That could mean local groups with the backing of the community, schools looking to innovate, or household names with the reach to bring computer science related activities to all corners of the country.

We won’t be able to fix the skills shortage overnight but by reaching young people at an early age and getting them excited about computing, initiatives like Digital Xtra have the potential to deliver real, long-term change and ensure the future success of our digital technologies industry.

Phil Worms is the Computing and School Project Lead, ScotlandIS.

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