Scotland’s digital technology sector has experienced strong growth in recent years, with business and political leaders confident the upward trend will continue in the long-term with sufficient support and investment.
But predicting what the future holds in such a continuously evolving industry is difficult. Decisions must be made on where to focus training and skills development. Standing still is not an option.
Official forecasts published by the Scottish Government suggest that 12,800 jobs will be created year on year, which ministers view as a “major opportunity” for young people and those willing to change careers.
The question asked by both companies and potential employees is what kind of jobs these will be and how they can prepare for them.
Addressing a skills shortage is crucial in the short term. CodeClan, the Edinburgh-based digital skills academy, has been leading on this front by speaking with industry leaders to help influence its 16-week professional software development course. So far more than 300 people have graduated, with 90 per cent finding employment within five months.
Steven Drost, chief strategy officer at CodeBase, the tech incubator based in Edinburgh, agrees there is a shortage of suitable candidates to fill newly created roles.
“We need 12,000 people who are missing - and if we could ready those people through education, upscaling, more graduates or attracting people to the country - then those jobs can be filled and we would have tens of thousands more jobs created,” he said.
Drost believes that the tech sector’s future relies on more companies reaching the heights of the country’s biggest names such as Skyscanner, FanDuel and FreeAgent. For that to happen, there must be an investment in scale-up companies, otherwise known as SMEs.
“Personally, my hope is that those jobs will go to the scale-ups - because more scale-ups are a good thing for the ecosystem, he added.
“I think we’ve had three stand-out companies that I can think of, who have been very kind to the community and very giving to the eco-system. We need a cohort of companies to be next in line and jump into that space.”
Gordon Kaye, managing director of tech recruitment specialists Cathcart Associates, said there was remained a strong desire for software developers.
“Our consultants are seeing the biggest need for web and mobile software developers and the appetite for people with those skills shows no sign of slowing,” he said.
“Growth areas include FinTech, the mobile market and big data, which is now much more accessible to companies in the UK thanks to the strides being made in technologies such as Splunk, Hadoop and Hive.”
Kaye also sees Scotland as an employee’s market, with skilled graduates being highly sought.
“What’s evident is that the need for skilled IT workers means that the best developers can have the luxury of being picky about where they work,” he added.
Polly Purvis, chief executive of ScotlandIS, believes the constant movement of the tech sector makes it a great place to work.
“The technology landscape is so fast moving - eight years ago no one had heard of iOS and AngularJS, and the internet of things and big data were buzz words - now they are common parlance.”
Purvis thinks that the digital expansion will see jobs across all sectors, including finance, transport and the creative arts.
“Looking ahead, cyber security is an increasingly challenging area and skills are in short supply.”