TECH TALK: Youngsters are still not prioritising a career in the digital sector, says BILL MAGEE
Scottish policymakers would be perfectly within their rights, I guess, to skip a new digital report sharply criticising the UK’s performance in developing tech skills. But they shouldn’t. WorldSkills UK compares Britain to several other “major global economies” which, it finds, are doing significantly better in producing highly-technical skillsets and filling related jobs.
The London-based body identifies seven countries ahead of the UK in what is a fiercely competitive digital dogfight to achieve technological advancement, and all that this means in terms of productivity and competitiveness.
The report names Austria, Brazil, France, Hungary, India, Japan and South Korea in its report “Drivers of Technical Excellence in the Skills Economy.” Each country is commended for its “well developed technically taught workforce and well documented, positive impact on learners, employers and the economy.”
WorldSkills UK maintains its findings will help “raise standards in the UK’s skills systems”, adding Britain has “pockets of excellence”.
But it adds “there has been chronic under-investment by successive governments..huge policy churn hasn’t helped either” and Britain should “embed learnings” from such global insights.
One just has to recall Westminster political leaders being pulled up for their casual and controversial use of WhatsApp, and routinely using personal Gmail accounts and easy-to-track mobile phones, to conduct state business.
Scotland, rightly so, is doing its own thing and is in the midst of what the year-old Logan Report describes as a drive to “become a fully-aligned digital ecosystem”. There is, however, much work still to be done.
On the tech jobs front, latest figures indicate that of 13,000 digital jobs on offer annually, a mere 5,000 are trained up through graduates and apprenticeships. That’s quite a significant gap.
The report’s author, former Skyscanner chief operating officer Mark Logan, points out difficulties in filling such tech roles is a global problem, but if all vacancies were filled this would add £1 billion to the Scottish economic coffers.
When it comes to another global issue: school computer science teaching, Logan describes the situation as an “educational emergency”. In 2001 the uptake was 28,393, this year the figure has shrunk to 10,228.
An Institute of Fiscal Studies report last week revealed Scotland spends more per pupil on education than any other UK nation. This begs a question.
Why do youngsters shy away from computer science as a future? Especially as middle to top digital jobs can command a salary of five, even six figures?
A Learning and Work Institute survey of 2,000 young people found 88% believed such skills are essential for their career, matching 91% of businesses viewing such skills as critical for the future.
I suspect saying it is one thing but it appears quite a leap from embracing TikTok and Instagram socially to actually buckling down to learn all about computer coding at school.
Also, perhaps Scotland has over-relied on its undoubted strength as an overseas location to attract digital talent to its shores. Surely the answer now lies in accelerating tech career opportunities indigenously.
One such home-grown venture, the ‘Digital Technology Education Charter’ is bringing industry and academia closer together and has already attracted as partners some of the biggest financial players on the planet.
The DTEC idea is not new but early take-up to the charter is impressive. Signatories include JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Institute of Directors Scotland, Head Resourcing, and the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Morgan Stanley’s executive director technology Eve Wallace speaks of an “outdated perception” and general lack of awareness of tech opportunities on offer inhibiting talented people from exploring and ultimately building successful careers in the industry.
Louise MacDonald, IoD Scottish national director, says it’s vital schools, industry, academia and other stakeholders are brought together to identify what more can be achieved to “collaborate and catalyse” change.
Alison McLaughlin, chair of ScotlandIS, another signatory to DTEC, sums up by stating the primary challenge remains access to suitably qualified tech-related staff. Also accelerating improvement through a “better channelling” of capacity, skills and experience to bring immense value in improving services and lives.
Ms McLaughlin is Exception‘s client engagement director and chaired the recent Holyrood Connect Cloud Services in the Public Sector conference.