Scotland is quickly becoming one of the most vibrant tech hubs on the planet, fuelled by the success of Skyscanner, FanDuel and Freeagent – among other players. This success isn’t just consigned to one region either, with pioneering activities taking place not only in Glasgow and Edinburgh, but also in Aberdeen, Dundee and central Scotland. However, much like the rest of the UK, Scotland is also battling a digital skills deficit. If this upward curve in tech innovation is to continue – and in light of Brexit – the Scottish tech sector must ensure that it is equipped with the relevant skills.
Research from ScotlandIS reinforces the healthy posture of the country with headcounts, profits and sales all experiencing an increase. The findings from the trade body highlight the following:
- 82 per cent of businesses expect sales to increase in 2017, and 78 per cent have a “very optimistic” or “optimistic” view for the year ahead;
- Seven out of ten companies reported an increase in sales, some by more than 50 per cent year on year;
- 78 per cent of firms forecast that they will hire more staff in 2017, compared with 66 per cent in 2016.
Digital skills in demand
Although these findings demonstrate strong confidence within the sector, long term considerations cannot be ignored, particularly when it comes to digital skills. The results from the survey reveal that software and web development remain the most in-demand skills, as well as a strong need for commercial, design, business support and project management expertise. But critically, the biggest finding comes from where that talent will be sourced, with 73 per cent of companies expecting to make hires from within Scotland – an increase of 13 per cent from last year. The results also reported that organisations hiring new talent from outside the UK would drop from 21 per cent to 9 per cent.
Best minds from everywhere
The technology sector is built on the principles of embracing new ideas and new ways of thinking, and for this to be done effectively, it is important we are able to connect and leverage the best possible minds from wherever they are in the world. However, Brexit has changed this frontier, bringing with it fresh uncertainty. For many industries, access to particular workforces with particular skill sets may not be readily available anymore and, as a result, organisations are having to rethink their strategy for maintaining and increasing innovation. In such an instance, we need to access the resources and talent closer to home and critically, this seems to be what is happening in Scotland within the tech sector.
While specific skills have been identified, it is less of a case of training people up to fill those roles. Instead, what is needed is an entire behavioural shift to focus on harnessing the capabilities and attitudes that underpin tech innovation, including problem-solving, design thinking and curiosity, with these qualities instilled at school-aged level and best developed through experimental learning.
Wider community engagement programme
In practice, what is needed is a wider community engagement programme requiring support from key stakeholders including industry, education and government – by working together, we will then be able to harness characteristics needed to prosper such as curiosity, design innovation and problem-solving capabilities. Similar calls have been made within other industries such as manufacturing; the same focus on experimental learning needs to be applied for the technology sector.
Where there is increasing complexity in a market, you can be sure that specialisation will arise to address it. Although Brexit has forced the hand of many organisations, critically, Scotland is taking the right approach by building up and growing local talent to assure its future. As a sector, digital technology within Scotland is one of the most exciting places to be. To preserve this, the emphasis must be about expanding mind-sets at a young age, not pigeonholing them into one set area.
Ross Tuffee is the CEO of Scotland-based DOGFI.SH Mobile