BY CLAIRE GILLESPIE
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Scotland in 2016 is a hotbed of digital sector success stories. Global firms such as Skyscanner and Fanduel were launched in Edinburgh and are still based in the capital. An array of tech startups, and many established companies such as Microsoft and Capgemini are also an important part of Scotland’s rapidly expanding tech sector.
As the industry continues to grow, this offers significant career opportunities as forecasts suggest that there could be as many as 11,000 job vacancies each year in Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) and digital technology, and currently employer demand is outstripping supply.
The growth in the sector means that employers require increasing numbers of skilled, employment ready people to take these jobs. Even non-technology businesses require employees with digital skills as we increasingly rely on technology in everything we do. Scotland must move quickly, and take advantage of the incredible opportunity which is right on its doorstep.
Despite this many of our young people may not immediately consider a career in the digital technology sector. Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects, which provide a strong background for digital technology jobs, can be perceived as daunting subject choices to make. Students may fear the negative stereotypes associated with STEM subjects, or be concerned about the perceived difficulty of these subjects. Crucially, there are often misconceptions about the career opportunities available to students who have completed these subjects.
It is of vital importance that we help young people understand the quantity and quality of career options that are now open to them. One of the challenges we face is demonstrating the range of opportunities a career in digital technology can offer, as well as the different routes a young person can take to enter this exciting new world of work. To raise the attractiveness of this sector to young people, it is important we also help parents understand the opportunities in the industry
Parents are, naturally, key influencers in helping young people decide on their future career. Children begin to make choices that can affect their career path in early secondary school, when they choose their subjects of study. Parents often provide guidance, so they must themselves also be informed of the many and varied options now open to young people.
Clearly, most parents and guardians have the greatest intentions for their children. However, recent studies show that nearly half are unaware of the full range of career options now available, and don’t always understand the long-term opportunities in careers and sectors they are not familiar with. This is why Skills Development Scotland in partnership with Young Scot is taking to the road with Discovering Digital World, a series of careers events for parents as well as young people.
Traditional career paths, such as law or financial services, may be the obvious choice for parents to encourage their children towards. We understand what these jobs are, and how we can pursue them. Jobs like software development, data analytics or digital forensics seem more abstract. It is not always clear to parents how or why they should help their children consider these as careers. When it comes to possible career choices, many parents, through no fault of their own, can struggle to help make these difficult decisions.
This is not surprising. The sheer range of options now available must feel incomprehensible. Technology has advanced at an exponential rate, even within the last five years. Consider how recently no one had heard of a smartphone, now we rely upon them. Self-driven cars are no longer amusing science fiction; they will be available within our lifetime. It is challenging enough to keep up with the latest tech trends, let alone new employment opportunities in the sector.
This is why Discovering Digital World has been developed by Skills Development Scotland and Young Scot to make the sector more accessible. A series of interactive roadshows will be happening around Scotland, showcasing the exciting possibilities on offer to young people if they decide to pursue a career in tech.
In particular, there will be dedicated evening sessions for parents and guardians. These events will aim to answer questions about the digital technology industry, the job opportunities available and routes in, from university courses, from college, and from modern apprenticeships.
The roadshows will visit areas from the Highlands to the Scottish Borders with a focus on locations where it may be more difficult to access national ICT and digital technologies careers events. This initiative is a brilliant opportunity for young people, and their parents, to engage with a whole range of employers to find out about routes into the industry, and dis- cover just how rewarding a career in technology can be, with job earnings regularly above the national average.
Young people in Scotland are bright, talented and, more than capable of stepping up to fill the skills gap we are currently facing. We must encourage them to realise their full potential, and explore the possibilities an exciting career in our booming tech sector can offer.
Claire Gillespie is key sector manager for ICT and digital technologies at Skills Development Scotland.
Sign up here for a free place at Discovering Digital World.