Availability of talent is the key topic facing the technology industry
Teenager Jordan Kilbride is one of the more fortunate young Scots whose tech career path appears already mapped out before him.
Plucked virtually straight from school, equipped with a handful of Highers and majoring in computers, mathematics and accounts, he has been spotted by Microsoft’s fi rst ‘Activated Cloud Partner’ in Scotland, IA Cubed. The Glasgow-based tech specialist with a UK reach has recruited Jordan this year under the software giant’s ‘Britain Works’ initiative as one of three apprentices, the other two are developing a career in IT sales.
The move places IA Cubed and its trio of young recruits well ahead of the pack, with the Scottish Government only now making a call for employers to take on an apprenticeship this year to help boost their business. Jordan says he sees great merit in the Scottish education department’s initiative to investigate expanding the ‘instant-on’ teaching environment that tablet mobile devices can bring.
But when asked if there is a key area where his personal tech expertise could have been enhanced, signifi cantly, the 18 year old talks about the age factor. The former Knightswood Secondary School pupil says he first became interested and pretty competent in computers at ages 11 to 12.
Sounds young enough, but Jordan wishes it had been earlier: “I think that if I had been introduced to the subject formally at, say, 7, then it would have acted as a real confi dence booster. As a teenager, it would have enabled me to work more on my own when working with technology and not having to ask as many questions of my new colleagues!”
Undaunted, he is being guided by those same senior workmates and is busy working on a personal programme of Microsoft-affiliated exams including PC and software programming and configuring that takes in Office 365 softwareas- a-service (SaaS), an area in which IA Cubed is a UK market leader.
Jordan’s view squares with a call by an increasing number of Scots tech experts for significant improvements to be made in IT education to the lasting benefi t of Scotland plc. ScotlandIS lays great stress on the skills factor in its annual ‘health check’ of the sector, highlighting how the country’s computing fi rms are crying out for staff with commercial and business acumen. At stake, as the trade body for the Scots ICT industry points out, is an estimated £12bn the country could add to its economy creating 20,000 highvalue jobs and 1000 new businesses within fi ve years by embracing digital technologies.
American technology giant IBM told a private Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce gettogether that Scotland plc risks failing to nurture the country’s next generation of techbased entrepreneurs early enough to the lasting benefi t of the economy and the country’s ability to compete globally. Stephen Leonard, the company’s UK and Ireland operations chief executive, warns that current IT educational standards are likely to be at least a decade out of date and require urgent attention.
Chiming with young Jordan’s sentiments, Leonard adds that policymakers should be thinking as early as primary-school level to properly equip youngsters for their fi rst job. A Scot who leads IBM’s overall business in Britain and Ireland responsible for a 20,000-strong workforce – including almost 2,000 in Greenock – Leonard recently wrote to the UK Government about the urgent need for a new IT and computer science school curriculum.
IBM found itself unable to fi ll 200 jobs because of what it described as a critical shortage of skilled workers. Yet, economic growth and emerging market opportunities are based around technology driving productivity in every sector. Leonard, a member of e-Skills UK, says: “Skills and the availability of talent is hugely important and perhaps the key topic facing each and everyone of us but there still exist signifi cant shortfalls when it comes to technology.
“Take the GCSE for IT as an example. Would you believe it is more than 20 years old, yet 12 years ago there were no smartphones or other smart devices. This remains a challenge. Whilst it is important to improve matters at secondary-school level, we should actually be looking at primary schools when it comes to integrating technology into the curriculum, especially in socially-deprived areas,” he adds.
At the Institute of Directors in Scotland, IT specialist Scott McGlinchey, chief officer of Edinburgh-based tech consultancy and services specialists Exception, has called for a debate on the future of Scotland’s information technology infrastructure. “Scotland’s education system needs to help develop more the skills and talents to ensure this country survives, develops and leads in the global tech economy,” he said.
The IOD membership heard that amidst all the Scots independence/devo-max/pro-unionist daily political chitchat, McGlinchey fears that not enough thought and consideration is being given to what standard of technological infrastructure Scotland has in place to enable the country to compete globally. “It’s vital that a forward-looking Scotland can offer – to potential investors and existing commercial concerns alike – the best possible tech skill sets available and the right infrastructure to support the growth of companies and innovation.”
He highlights that the IT infrastructure that Scotland needs is no overnight matter and, at best, will take several years to fully implement. “There is much that we can reuse, but there will also be new requirements and many new approaches towards satisfying these in a more cost-effective way.”
Otherwise, there is a danger that poor integration between disparate and often overlapping IT systems means a lack of data integrity, an absence of shared knowledge and stunted opportunities to boost the country’s educational system and with it, the economy. McGlinchey maintains that IT’s role is critical because it determines just how flexible, adaptable and dynamic any organisation – from an educational system to an entire government – can be, and by extension, to a country like Scotland.
A programme of more formalised primary school computer science training may come one day. But for the moment, it is that ideal versus the real world, explains Jonathan Warner, Scots programme manager with QA Apprenticeships. Warner, who works with the Ofsted-rated initiative that partners with UK-wide industry leaders and employers including Microsoft’s IT Academy Program, Capgemini and British Airways, sums up a vital commercial aspect wrapped round “the employability of skills.”
“Hopefully one day at primary level it will come but teachers there have to work with such a big curriculum in their daily work…this is where we come in at the apprenticeship level: bridging the gap between young IT knowledge and training the person in what the employer wants.”
Meanwhile, young Jordan Kilbride is fast honing the tech tools that are already making him an integral part of his new workplace providing in-demand dynamic IT solutions for what is a new age of digital media.