Scottish tech bounces back from Covid - Karen Meechan

A key finding from our annual Scottish Technology Industry Survey is that Scotland’s tech sector has bounced back from the shock of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Karen Meechan is CEO at ScotlandIS
Karen Meechan is CEO at ScotlandIS

Scotland is home to a thriving tech ecosystem with over 1,500 companies that contributed £4.9bn Gross Value Added (GVA) to the economy. This year’s survey results demonstrate that the sector has remained in robust shape despite the impact of Covid-19. We are not only seeing strong growth, but more than 70 per cent of companies reported increasing sales and growing optimism.

Our industry continues to perform well in many high growth sectors. Key areas of growth include data analytics, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things. However, Scotland’s expertise in cyber security is the stand-out for potential growth. Around a third of Scotland’s tech businesses view cyber security as an opportunity in the year to come. This builds on a raft of initiatives to bolster the sector, from the continuing growth of events at the popular annual Cyber Scotland Week to the proposed creation of a cyber innovation hub, and our Silver Accredited Cyber Cluster at ScotlandIS. These are exciting times to be in Scotland’s cyber community.

However, the continued growth in sectors, such as cyber, will be constrained if we do not have a pipeline of talent. Talent continues to stay in high demand across the industry and is becoming increasingly challenging for the industry to manage.

Opportunities in cyber security abound, with many companies reporting talent openings likely to grow over the coming year. While there is strong demand for software development skills across the sector, there are also serious talent changes for many in areas such as sales and marketing. Over 80% of respondents to our survey cited sales and marketing as a high requirement.

While demand for graduate recruitment remains particularly strong, it is work placement opportunities and interest in college graduates that has increased significantly from the previous year. Apprenticeship opportunities are increasing with nearly 50% of respondents reporting they are likely to recruit someone for a Graduate Apprenticeship. It’s a similar picture for Modern Apprenticeships and Foundation Apprenticeships, demonstrating that the sector is keen to nurture home-grown talent at all levels. There’s also high demand from the education sector for collaboration and curriculum development with the digital tech sector, which ScotlandIS is helping to facilitate through our Critical Friends programme.

Employers are increasingly innovative in their approach to recruitment. For many, specific qualifications are less important than individual aptitude and ensuring a diverse workforce. Nevertheless, despite this growing demand and increasing flexibility by employers we simply don’t have the throughput of graduates and apprentices to meet demand.

While we welcome the recent Scottish Government investment in new teachers and reskilling, recruitment challenges are likely to prevail. More needs to be done across secondary schools to encourage young people to develop appropriate sector skills and we need to look at ways to retain the top talent we have.

We have been working with local authorities in a few areas of Scotland on a Digital Critical Friends program, facilitating greater collaboration between industry and our educators, and we’ll continue to grow this initiative as much as possible while also exploring other ways to support.

But more efforts to support businesses on the talent shortage must continue to be a priority in the year ahead. As a sector, we’re up for the challenge but it needs a collaborative approach from academia, industry and government.

Karen Meechan is CEO at ScotlandIS

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