ScotlandIS CEO Polly Purvis on bringing fresh energy to a digital industry in flux
My mantra this year is ‘think big’. That’s the message that gets me up in the morning and drives my day. After 20 years of working in technology, I have never felt such positive energy and a feeling of excitement in the industry as it goes through unprecedented growth and transformation.
This fast pace of change, the acceleration of trends and the adoption of digital technology by business is impacting all sectors, and all sizes of business.
The last decade has seen extraordinary success stories, including Wolfson, Craneware, RockstarNorth, and Iomart and more recently FanDuel, FreeAgent and Skyscanner, Scotland’s first $1bn web company.
There has never been a better time to get into software and IT. For young people considering their career options our industry offers endless opportunities, from setting up their own start-up company to international marketing for one of the many firms going global.
Contributing £5bn in GVA [Gross Value Added] to the economy, some 80,000 people are employed by Scotland’s digital technologies industry with start-up incubators such as Edinburgh’s Codebase going from strength to strength. Since its launch last year, it has grown to become Europe’s biggest and the UK’s fastest growing tech incubator.
More than eight out of 10 businesses say they are expecting to recruit new staff in the coming year and exports are on the up, with companies looking to the US, Canada and Europe as the most promising markets. Yet this is all in the context of an increasingly challenging skills gap taking hold. It is causing wage inflation and making it harder for companies to retain experience and attract the best people.
A thriving technology sector is reliant on fresh talent coming into the industry for its growth. If we get it right now, Scotland’s economy will reap the rewards for years to come. A shortage of skilled people could stop us in our tracks, which is why the Skills Investment Plan (SIP) for Scotland’s Digital Technologies and ICT industries is so welcome and we are glad to see its recommendations being put into action.
One of the most important outcomes of the SIP is an ambitious plan to create Scotland’s first immersive coding academy. Its task: to produce a steady stream of software developers ready for work.
The idea of a digital skills academy for web and mobile software development draws on the success of the new breed of immersive academies around the world, including Flatiron School in New York, Makers in London and Stackademy in Berlin.
We’re not the only country battling a skills gap, nor are we the first to look to coding academies as a new way of feeding the talent pipeline. The US currently has 500,000 unfilled vacancies in the tech sector and in March, President Obama announced his new TechHire initiative. It will supplement universities and community colleges with non-traditional approaches including ‘coding bootcamps’ in an aim to train workers rapidly for a career in IT in just a few months. Likewise, students of Scotland’s digital skills academy will learn the fundamentals of software development and coding they can take straight into the workplace.
By creating a new talent pool we will allow Scotland’s vibrant digital sector to flourish and drive the economy. The digital skills academy will draw on an untapped resource of talented individuals who have an aptitude for coding but need a route into the industry.
The needs of the industry will be at the heart of the new academy and the curriculum will be tailored to fit real-time market demands in Scotland. It has been developed through close consultation with businesses of all sizes and is a direct response by the digital technologies industry to the skills shortage.
We are under no illusion that this is not a quick fix but the start of a long-term process. The targets are ambitious, but as the skills crisis continues to worsen we need a radical intervention. This is no longer just a question of skills; it is an economic development issue which will determine Scotland’s success or otherwise in the years to come.
Candidates will be drawn from a variety of backgrounds, from underemployed graduates and coding hobbyists to people changing career or returning to work. Although a traditionally ‘tech’ background is not needed, a rigorous selection process will help determine aptitude and fit.
We have the power as an industry to be able to grow the Scottish economy but, despite having that big ambition, we need a talent pool wide enough and deep enough to support that ambition.
By dealing with this challenge now we will ensure that our industry is able to continue to grow and contribute to the Scottish economy.
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