Imagine a SWOT analysis of Scotland’s economy. Atop the strengths quadrant is our digital technology sector, growing at one and a half times as fast as the rest of the economy.
The stats make for impressive reading: 9,400 tech companies contribute £4.9bn to the Scottish economy and support nearly 100,000 jobs, with an annual requirement for 13,000 new roles each year. So far, so positive.
Until we come to threats. A glaring gap is emerging between demand and supply in Scotland’s digital sector. The sector may be creating 13,000 new digital roles annually but there’s a significant shortfall of people to fill them. According to ScotlandIS, the trade association for the digital technologies industry, the country only produces around 5,000 new recruits each year through apprenticeships or graduates.
Which brings us to opportunities. How can we support the growth of our dynamic tech sector so that Scotland continues to lead from the front? While there’s no immediate solution, there’s undoubtedly an immediate need for action, involving both industry and education.
Encouragingly, efforts are already underway. The Digital Technology Education Charter has been established as a catalyst for change. The Charter brings together organisations, individuals and schools to support and inspire the next generation of computing science at school – a subject that is intrinsic to tech careers.
The Charter is more than a mere list of signatories: there’s substance behind it. The website allows schools and companies to connect and plan activities to bring the subject of computer science to life for pupils. Signatories are also joining forces to raise awareness among pupils, parents and carers about the wealth of opportunities that choosing computer science can open up.
For parents and carers, it seems mind-boggling to encourage your teenager to pursue a job that might not yet exist. Yet this is the reality across the broader careers landscape. Tech is arguably a far broader driver of change – as seen by the growing profile of sub-sectors such as fintech, agri-tech, healthcare technology and esports.
We may not be able to give young people concise descriptions of the roles they’ll be applying for in five years’ time, but we can lay the foundations and whet their appetites. Studying computing science sows the seeds of interest in a young person’s mind. Notably, employers also place a huge importance on curiosity, creativity and critical thinking; skills that a young person with a passion for technology can bring to their business, particularly if nurtured through industry input in the classroom.
Closer to home, the value of tech is evidenced by Opportunity North East’s stated ambition to establish the region as a global hub for the industrial digital economy with a high-growth company cluster. The ONE Tech Hub provides a dedicated environment for North-east digital start-ups and existing companies to grow.
This explosion of positive tech activity on our doorstep will require bright young minds to continue the growth journey. Igniting the spark in their schooldays is key to preventing the digital skills shortage from becoming Scotland’s weakness.