Tech sector '˜needs to up its game' to attract talent

The technology industry must to a better job of promoting the career opportunities available to young people, according to a senior figure at IT group EMC.

Education secretary John Swinney talks to a student at the CodeClan digital skills academy. Picture: Chris Watt
Education secretary John Swinney talks to a student at the CodeClan digital skills academy. Picture: Chris Watt

Martin Brown, head of mid-markets at the cloud computing and data storage specialist – which has just been acquired by tech giant Dell in a $67 billion (£50bn) deal – said organisations such as digital trade body ScotlandIS and the CodeClan skills academy have made “brilliant” progress, but the industry as a whole needs to work harder at attracting fresh talent.

“We have to do a better job of selling the industry and the mix of roles within it – and these aren’t necessarily purely technical roles,” Brown told The Scotsman.

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“There have been some really good developments in Scotland that will help, and while universities are creating very skilled graduates, we have to make sure we have the opportunities for them.”

His comments were echoed by Ishbell MacPhail, sales director and general manager for Scotland at Dell, the technology group founded in 1984 by Michael Dell.

“It’s a responsibility we all have within the IT industry to promote it as a great place to build your career,” MacPhail said. The digital technologies sector contributes some £4 billion to the Scottish economy and employs about 80,000 people.

As well as making itself more attractive to youngsters, MacPhail said the sector needs to up its game when it comes to encouraging more women to pursue a career in technology. “Diversity as a whole is really critical, and gender is just a part of that, but Dell and EMC have great cultures of inclusiveness.”

When asked what advice she would give someone considering a career in IT, she said: “Come into the industry with the ability to challenge, think creatively and solve problems. That’s where young people and those new to the industry will add value.”

Brown added: “I actually studied economics and had little IT experience when I joined EMC. Technology is so pervasive that everybody understands the impact of it, so it’s potentially a brilliant career if you apply yourself.”

Their comments came after Dell completed its acquisition of EMC to become the world’s largest privately-held technology company, valued at some $74bn.

Michael Dell, the group’s chairman and chief executive, said in a statement: “We are at the dawn of the next industrial revolution. Our world is becoming more intelligent and more connected by the minute, and ultimately will become intertwined with a vast ‘internet of things’, paving the way for our customers to do incredible things.

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“This is why we created Dell Technologies. We have the products, services, talent and global scale to be a catalyst for change and guide customers, large and small, on their digital journey.”

Since being taken private its founder in 2013, Dell has been investing in research and development and growing its software and services business as those in the technology industry continue to struggle with soft PC sales.

EMC is traditionally seen as strong player in the large-scale enterprise market, whereas Dell has been more focused on consumers and small to medium-sized businesses, and Brown said: “There’s not a massive overlap between EMC and Dell in what we were taking to market before.”

Dell has about 2,500 staff in the UK, with a sizeable operation in Glasgow, set up ten years ago, and a growing presence in Edinburgh, focused on cyber-security. EMC, which has offices in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Livingston, employs about 70 people north of the Border.

MacPhail said: “We’re in a very fortunate position we we’ve got lots of local resource serving our Scottish customers base. We believe that bringing together the two organisations is going to strengthen our offering to customers thanks to our combined set of capabilities.

“Dell has a phenomenal reputation around being able to exercise a global supply chain muscle and that’s something we will work harder at. That’s where we’re going to see operational efficiencies.”

Brown said the focus of the merged organisation was to minimise any changes for customers while expanding its breadth of offering. Major tie-ups often see companies try to squeeze out cost savings by eliminating any overlaps and cutting staff, but he said: “The reason behind this is to drive additional growth and take something even more compelling to our customers.”

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Highlighting supermarket chain Tesco’s use of its Clubcard loyalty scheme to drive the benefits of data, Brown said that more companies were now looking to capitalise on the mountains of data they are sitting on, adding: “We can help customers become more efficient and invest in this new world. The cloud is being adopted across lots of different industries and we’re seeing providers using that technology to deliver automation and reduce costs.”