We need to create an army of ‘mini ambassadors’ to get kids interested in tech sector careers

More than 40,000 S1-S3 pupils and teachers have been involved in SDS’s Discover Cyber programme.

Our regular exclusive column with the Chair of SDS’ Digital Technology Skills Group (DTSG) returns, with Hannah Malone standing in for Donald McLaughlin on this occasion. Hannah has been an active member of the DTSG for three years. 

New research carried out by Skills Development Scotland (SDS) on behalf of the DTSG confirms that Scotland’s tech industry is one of the fastest growing in the country, contributing £4.9bn to the Scottish economy and supporting almost 100,000 jobs.

The report also confirmed that the sector will be one of the fastest growing in Scotland between now and 2029 and is expected to grow one and half times faster than the economy overall.

“Scotland’s Digital Technologies 2019” also states the number of people needed to support the tech industry has significantly increased, with more than 13,000 jobs available each year in Scotland, a rise of more than 200 a year based on figures previously released by SDS in 2017. On top of this, a typical tech job salary is 26% higher than the Scottish average – £36,900 compared to £29,200 – and is also rising faster than other salaries (15% versus 11%).

Despite this positive news, we know much more still needs to be done to address our skills gap, particularly in the areas of equality and education. Although the proportion of women in tech roles increased from 18% to 23% in the three years between 2015 and 2018, there is still a long way to go to address the serious gender imbalance.

In terms of education, although there has a been a 20% increase in students studying computer science at University, there has been a 12% decline in pupils taking the subject at school. That is a worrying trend that we collectively – government, the public sector and industry – need to address.

And this got me thinking about my role as a parent as well as a technologist. Careers in tech are still sorely misunderstood by young people, with outdated and unappealing stereotypes turning children off one of the most exciting and impactful sectors in the world.

We need to work harder as an industry to dispel these myths, but we also need to work harder as parents to ensure our own kids get a better understanding of the reality and potential of working in tech. They in turn can tell their friends, who in turn will tell their pals, about the amazing opportunities open to them in our sector. 

Imagine the difference we could make to the image of the industry, and its appeal as a career choice for young people (and girls in particular) if we created an army of mini ambassadors who tell everyone at the school about the wonders of working in technology. 

We all know how important and powerful peer pressure can be, so let’s use it for the good of the industry, and for the good of our children’s future.