Making technology an attractive career choice for young people

Welcome to the first in a series of monthly columns from Donald McLaughlin, Chair of SDS’ Digital Technology Skills Group, where he will give his personal perspective on some of the challenges impacting the tech sector in Scotland. Here, Donald discusses what’s happening in schools to create our future “digital humans”.

I recently gave an interview to The Herald about Scotland’s digital skills gap and the negative impact it could have on our country’s economy. With nearly 13,000 digital job vacancies every year, it’s vital that we find as many ways as possible to fill the talent pipeline. One of the longer-term ways to do that is to make sure our school children see digital and tech as a really attractive career choice.  

Making sure Computer Science is an attractive option for schools, both for teachers and pupils, is therefore essential. There have been some definite challenges around this important area, but I am confident we are now turning a corner on this thanks to true partnership working involving a range of stakeholders.

A key starting point was refreshing the Computing Science curriculum which was updated by Education Scotland in partnership with teachers, academia and industry. This ultimately improves the experience for pupils, as the curriculum now reflects technological change, while the teachers are benefiting from expanded professional development opportunities, including the launch of new learning tools through the SQA Academy.

In terms of teacher CPD, Education Scotland and SDS have also been trialling some innovative approaches such as partnering with CodeClan to deliver an immersive experience specifically for teachers. This pilot involved nearly 50 teachers, and was so well received the skills agency is looking at how to roll this out, and scale it up.

We also now have the Digital Schools Award in Scotland. This is a public/private partnership programme developed to recognise good practice and to support nursery, primary and secondary schools to make improvements to their computing and digital education.

We know there is still much more to be done. But let’s appreciate and applaud what has been done to date.

And there is no doubt there is some fantastic work being done in our schools. Wick High School is a frequent high achiever in the Apps for Good competition, and SWIT award winner Toni Scullion epitomises the amazing things teachers are doing, often under their own steam, to help our digital humans of the future.

SDS’s very own Cyber Live lessons were not only way oversubscribed in year one (more than 6,500 lessons downloaded), they also inspired schools and teachers, like Grantown Grammar, to set up their own voluntary cyber clubs. And of course, we now have the Foundation Apprenticeships which provide a valuable work-based learning alternative for young people interested in digital tech. And let’s not forget about the great extracurricular activity being driven by the Digital Xtra Fund, and also the work being done with partners outside school like the Girl Guides.

We know there is still much more to be done. But let’s appreciate and applaud what has been done to date through true partnership working with the likes of Scottish Government, Education Scotland, SDS, ScotlandIS, SQA, the local authorities and of course industry itself.

If you think there are other things we should be doing to build on this great collective work, let me know.

Until next month………….