Donald McLaughlin, country manager for Scotland, said that the sector faces competition from other fast-growing industries, such as life sciences and renewable energy.
McLaughlin told The Scotsman: “When I was growing up 20 years ago and said I wanted to go into IT, people thought that it sounded like an exciting career.
“IT is now competing with more industries than it was 15 or 20 years ago.
“We need to be reaching people when they’re at school, not just at university.”
His comments come while Cisco is launching an apprenticeship scheme for hundreds of budding network technicians after its TechWatch report highlighted rising demand for staff in the IT sector.
The scheme comes on top of the networking academies that Cisco runs throughout the UK, including at about 40 sites in Scotland.
The academies offer training to long-term unemployed people and recruits from urban regeneration areas, such as north and south Glasgow.
McLaughlin’s fears over recruitment for the industry reflect those voiced by trade body ScotlandIS, with executive director Polly Purvis warning the industry is “crying out for talent” despite stubbornly-high levels of unemployment.
In September, Cisco – which employs about 150 people in Scotland at sites in Edinburgh and Glasgow – teamed up with other industry giants including IBM and Oracle to launch a series of “Technology Opportunities Focus” events, which aimed to attract talent into the industry, including more women and young people.
McLaughlin added: “Recruiting people for the IT sector is also important for other parts of the economy, because it had help to stimulate exports in other sectors as more and more companies want to sell their products and services.”