Tech experts wanted to help tackle digital skills gap in Scottish schools
The Digital Critical Friends initiative by tech firm ScotlandIS, is looking to tackle the skills gap and overturn the high computer science drop-off rates.
By pairing experts – from IT technicians to software engineers – with educators, it aims to shape school curriculums so it aligns with the sector’s best practices and offer a more reliable view of potential opportunities.
At a time of exponential growth in the Scottish tech sector, which currently provides one in ten jobs, it is hoped that the initiative could help solve the supply and demand challenges within the existing workforce, with over 20% of employees lacking basic data skills, according to a recent report by the Learning & Work Institute.
Earlier this year, the former Minister for Further Education, Higher Education, and Science, Jamie Hepburn, voiced concerns that the steep forecast in demand for staff will not be met by a corresponding "number of people with the right skills to take up these opportunities".
Speaking on the programme, Karen Meechan, CEO of ScotlandIS, said: “Scotland’s tech sector is dynamic, exciting and offers a brilliant career path for young people today. But given the fast nature of the industry, the changes in how we use and develop technology can’t always be reflected in how the subject is taught in schools.
"There is no better way to protect the industry’s promising growth trajectory, and job opportunities of school leavers, than to build a direct line of contact between schools and professionals.
Programme volunteers will hold regular meetings with teachers and can offer them to visit their workplace to gain insight and knowledge on projects.
Programme volunteer Fiona Anderson, project manager at PDMS said: “Giving young people an idea of the skillsets required for the various jobs in our sector can really help to give them direction for the future.
“For example, discussing how good attention to detail and problem-solving skills are key for analysis and testing jobs, or that design roles might be well-suited to those who are keen on art and design or who have a creative flair, can help students understand which roles in our industry might be a good fit for them.”
A commitment to shrink the digital skills gap was made by the Scottish Government last year, after making it a central aspect of its National Strategy for Economic Transformation. Last March, the Digital Economy Skills Action Plan declared that “digital talent is now essential for all of the country’s key industries”.
Referring to possible implementation obstacles, Meechan added: “We understand that each professional and each school will be balancing different priorities, which is why we’ve ensured that the programme can be tailored to best suit the needs of each party. For example, we have a school on the Isle of Barra looking for a Digital Critical Friend, which they appreciate will most likely have to be conducted remotely.”
The opportunity is now active in over six regions, with ScotlandIS aiming to make the initiative available nationwide soon.