Our regular column from the Digital Technology Skills Group chair Ross Tuffee focuses this month on the importance of employing and accommodating neurodivergent people within the tech workforce.

As most FutureScot readers know, there is a massive skills gap in Scotland’s technology sector with more than 13,000 job opportunities available every year and growing fast. We must collectively do all we can to fill this talent pipeline and fill it as quickly as possible.

A new report by Skills Development Scotland highlights an untapped pool of highly skilled individuals, often with unique talents that can be ideally suited to digital technology roles, and those are neurodivergent people.

For those unfamiliar with the term, neurodiverse individuals often think and act differently because their brains think and act differently, such as people who live with ADHD, autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia.

“Neurodiversity in Digital Technology” states that at least 1 in 10 of Scotland’s population are neurodivergent, but the true number could be far higher as many people are undiagnosed or don’t report themselves.

The publication recommends a series of actions that tech employers can take to benefit from increased neurodiversity in their teams, including changing job ads to be more inclusive, and introducing more flexible recruitment processes that aren’t just focused on form-filling and offer more practical task-based interviews.

Tech firms who have introduced policies to encourage the recruitment of neurodivergent people have reported benefits way beyond reputational enhancement, including productivity gains, quality improvements, boosts in innovation and creative problem solving, and an increase in employee engagement and even staff retention.

The report was launched at ScotSoft 2020 by the co-chairs of SDS’ Neurodiversity working group, Chris Hughes and Lee Hutchison.

They were joined by Beverley Harrow, an advocate and campaigner for neurodivergent people. She is the mother of two children with Asperger’s, the youngest being Geordie who at 16 has decided to pursue a career in cybersecurity after attending an SDS workshop on ethical hacking at Abertay University. He is also now undertaking a Foundation Apprenticeship in Software Engineering following that workshop.

The full launch video can be viewed here, but if you can’t afford the time to watch the full half-hour (you should if you can), go to 15min and 50 seconds in to hear Bev speak passionately about her drive to secure a brighter future for her sons and others like them. She believes that disability should never be a barrier to achievement, and after watching her great presentation you will definitely feel the same way.

More work to encourage tech employers to take on neurodivergent people will take place in the coming comings, but if you would like to find out more, or are already doing fine work in this area and would like to share your successes and learnings, please get in touch with me on LinkedIn.

Meanwhile SDS has been working on a new initiative with Scottish Government to enhance career prospects for neurodivergents in cyber security. Inverness College UHI, Edinburgh Napier University, West Lothian College and Perth Autism Support have received grants totalling £150,000 to develop new education programmes specifically designed to tackle some of the challenges mentioned in the report. Watch this space for further updates, but please start looking at your recruitment policies and activity right now, as making an effort to accommodate this rich talent pipeline will benefit everyone.