TECH TALK: Scotland’s tech sector will struggle to fulfil growth forecasts if a chronic skills shortage is not fixed, says DAVE LIVESEY
The future of the Scottish digital economy is likely to be a prosperous one. As a hub of dynamic start-ups, innovation incubators and specialist technology investors, Scotland has earned itself a reputation as one of the leading technology hotspots in the UK, growing 1.5 times faster than the overall UK economy.
Digital growth has been accelerated by the demands of the global pandemic – as businesses of all shapes and sizes have relied on technology more than ever for business continuity.
As companies look to keep pace in largely altered markets, digital innovation has become a huge priority for businesses that want to better understand and engage with customers. As a result, the Scottish tech landscape is now expected to become the second fastest growing sector up until 2029.
The tech skills conundrum
Unsurprisingly, this renewed drive to increase digital capabilities has led to an unprecedented demand for digital skills too. Findings from Accenture’s latest UK Tech Talent Tracker highlight a 25% increase in demand for tech roles in Scotland over the last 6 months, compared to a mere 10% in the rest of the UK. For those with the right digital skills and knowledge, Scotland is the place to be right now and for the foreseeable future.
However, while soaring skills demand is a clear indicator of Scotland’s rapid digital success, generating adequate supply remains an ongoing challenge. 75% of Scottish businesses report challenges in recruiting qualified digital staff, despite 82% of all job vacancies requiring digital expertise. If we consider that 93,000 tech roles were advertised in July this year alone, it’s clear that we have a critical digital skills crisis on our hands.
The reasons for this crisis are multifaceted. On one hand, the sheer speed at which the digital economy is expanding is driving increased demand from end users. A greater expectation for brands to be digitally engaging with their consumers results in tech talent being stretched, making it difficult for companies to deliver.
Keeping up with the pace of the global acceleration for digital solutions and products – and ensuring there is tech talent with the skills to match this level of output – remains a critical challenge and has only exacerbated an historic digital skills gap.
The vicious circle of senior talent
Heightening this challenge, the tech industry is also facing an sector-wide bottleneck where senior tech talent is concerned. While junior positions can be filled with new graduates or people with a passion for digital who have undertaken independent courses online, the depth and breadth of experience required to qualify for senior development and tech leadership makes these positions much harder to fill.
With fewer senior experts to train and upskill junior teams, companies are faced with a ‘catch 22’ situation, where not only do they struggle to hire senior tech talent in the first place, but have limited resources to support junior employees into senior positions. And so, the vicious circle of tech skills shortages rolls on.
The need to act
While the technology industry is faced with significant challenges when it comes to tackling this crisis, doing so is paramount to the future growth and success of the Scottish economy. Digital services companies accounted for 6.3% of the Scottish business base and 3.7% of total employment in 2019, and new figures are only expected to rise as we account for the rapid digital acceleration of the past 18 months.
If a shortage of digital skills prevails, it will curb the growth and aspirations of organisations of all shapes and sizes. Tackling this crisis will not be a quick process, and will involve the combined efforts of Scotland’s private, public, third and education sectors.
But done right, closing this gap and matching our soaring skills demand with adequate supply, will enable Scotland to boost its digital capabilities to unprecedented levels, ever increasing our small nation’s presence on the global stage.
Dave Livesey is club executive at AND Digital
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