Developing Scotland's tech skills- Karen Meechan

This has been a year of change for Scotland’s tech sector. Costs are rising and a recession is forecast; businesses are trying to balance what works best on the spectrum of office to home-based working; talent is not as available as it might have been previously yet the desire to adopt new technologies and digitise the economy is stronger than ever.

Last week saw our first gathering of the Scottish tech sector at our annual event, ScotSoft, where we considered these challenges, and the opportunity that they could represent. ScotSoft brings together academics, researchers, students, visionaries, technologists, business leaders and managers working in digital companies and end user businesses in Scotland, the UK and further afield.

As part of the event, we recognise some of the best minds coming from our universities that demonstrate the strength and breadth of tech talent being developed within Scotland in our Young Software Engineer Awards.

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An Abertay University student, Daniel Gearie, took first place at our annual Young Software Engineer of the Year Awards for creating software that can physically locate the position of a drone operator, as he and three other students were recognised for creating ideas which show an impressive combination of innovation, creativity and scalability.

Karen Meechan is CEO at ScotlandIS
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From the discussion that happened throughout the day, it was widely agreed that the future business environment remains very challenging, and whilst the sector is set to continue to make significant contributions to Scotland’s economy, it is not immune to macro influences.

Indeed, the Scottish tech sector has already been subject to a long-endured skills gap, but the attractiveness of Scottish talent to London and Silicon Valley, and labour shortages elsewhere, are adding further complexities to the labour situation in our sector.

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Just before ScotSoft, we conducted a pulse survey of the Scottish tech leaders amongst our membership. The results emphasised this challenge, while showing that the sector is working to address it. Three quarters of Scotland’s tech companies have increased benefits for their workers in the past twelve months, with nearly every single one (95%) doing so to make them a more competitive employer. For half, it was to help them retain existing employees too.

This challenge is just one reason why we cannot sit still. The good news is that there are a range of ways we can collectively contribute to the digital sector’s success.

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Our digital technologies companies have always depended on Scotland’s excellent academic institutions to supply a steady stream of talent; on Government support and funding for innovation; on collaboration within the sector to solve common challenges; and on us as a trade body to create solutions for the issues that are most pressing.

That is why with Skills Development Scotland we created CodeClan and the Digital Xtra Fund, and why we are currently working on the roll-out of our Digital Critical Friends programme, which has been developed to help inspire and educate school aged pupils on STEM subjects.

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With over a thousand of Scotland’s tech community under one roof last week, it was made clear that the appetite to work together to support and invest in our sector remains strong.

We must now harness that appetite to provide the sector with the talent, investment, and space for innovation that it needs to continue to thrive.

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Karen Meechan is CEO at ScotlandIS

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