Skills shortage hitting Scottish tech firms, survey finds

A lack of suitable candidates for jobs remains a major concern for tech firms in Scotland, an industry survey has found.

Stephen Taylor, CEO of Technology Scotland. Picture: Stewart Attwood

The annual skills and recruitment survey by trade body Technology Scotland found that while employers believe the sector remains vibrant, and the country is an attractive place to do business, the UK-wide skills shortage is hampering growth.

Almost two-thirds of respondents claimed they had at least one vacancy in the past which they had been unable to fill within three months.

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A similar number of businesses also reported they had internal skills shortages within their organisation, ranging from specific technical knowledge to management.

The report also highlights “a worrying disconnect” between university focus and industry requirements, with 56 per cent of respondents believing graduates do not have the right skills set to add value to businesses once they join the workforce.

Stephen Taylor, CEO of Technology Scotland, said that the results show that the sector remains “vibrant, active and resilient” despite recruitment challenges.

“With Scotland’s Emerging & Enabling Sector currently supplying 10% of Scottish exports and employing some 15,000 employees in high-value roles, it is fantastic news for the sector and for the country that so many feel that Scotland is such an attractive location to do business,” he said.

“Our survey shows that companies are retaining staff well in spite of current political uncertainties, however when it comes to filling current vacancies and sourcing graduates from Scottish universities, more work is needed to address challenges and avoid further disconnect.

“We therefore call on industry and academia to work with us to meet the increasing demand for home-grown talent and help secure this high-growth sector as one of Scotland’s leading capabilities”

The survey found the impact of Brexit was a major concern for tech recruiters.

While the majority of the workforce is recruited from Scotland and the wider UK, more than a third is hired from elsewhere in the European Union.

One respondent said: “I see a real effect of Brexit today. I am trying to hire experienced engineers now but I see two things - German and Italian engineers working in the UK are now leaving for Europe, while I can’t attract engineers from central Europe to the UK.”

On the issue of graduates, one respondent said: “(Scottish) universities are more succesful than our businesses - so we educate people but they work elsewhere.

Another said: “(There) is a lack of information people have at school age about the opportunities in this sector. Although there is a lot of activity being done to address the gender imbalance, the proof lies in the tiny percentage of women in tech companies at exectuvie level.”

The survey found a majority of firms (60%) did not offer a graduate training scheme with only 34% offering an apprenticeship programme.

Most rely on external training schemes, with only 40% offering in-house programmes.

According to research commissioned by the Digital Technologies Skills Group – a Scottish Government-backed initiative – the country’s digital technology businesses directly employ 60,100 people, while 91,600 people are now employed in digital tech roles across all sectors.

The number of estimated annual job opportunities has risen to 12,800 – up 16 per cent from a previous forecast.