Scotland’s digital future depends on ‘experimental learning’

Scotland must continue to take active steps to secure its digital future in the wake of Brexit, after research from the country’s digital technologies trade body, ScotlandIS, revealed digital technology organisations are increasingly looking to grow local talent (expected recruitment of overseas hires to drop from 21% to 9% in 2017), to support their requirements going forward.

As part of this, Ross Tuffee, CEO of Scottish-based mobile software development company and ScotlandIS member, DOGFI.SH Mobile, stated that the focus must be on harnessing the capabilities and attitudes that underpin tech innovation, including problem-solving, design thinking and curiosity, with these qualities instilled at school-aged level and best developed through experimental learning.

“Scotland is increasingly becoming one of the most buoyant tech hubs on the planet, fuelled by the success of Skyscanner, FanDuel and Freeagent. This success isn’t just consigned to one region, with pioneering activities taking place not only in Glasgow and Edinburgh, but also in Aberdeen, Dundee and central Scotland,” said Tuffee.

>See also: Scotland’s tech sector poised for growth

“In light of Brexit and for this upward curve in tech innovation to continue, the sector needs to continue to address the skills shortages, as the evidence has shown in the research from ScotlandIS.”

The latest research from ScotlandIS depicts a sector in rude health and continuing to increase in headcounts, profits and sales. The research highlights that 82% of businesses expect sales to increase in 2017, and 78% have a “very optimistic” or “optimistic” view for the year ahead.

Seven out of ten companies reported an increase in sales, some by more than 50% year on year, while 78% of firms forecast that they will hire more staff in 2017, compared with 66% in 2016.

While these findings demonstrate strong confidence within the sector, long term considerations cannot be ignored, particularly regarding digital skills. The results show that software and web development remain the most in-demand skills, as well as a strong need for commercial, design, business support and project management expertise.

>See also: Tackling tech literacy at school level

But critically, the biggest finding comes from where that talent will be sourced, with 73% of companies expected to make hires from within Scotland – an increase of 13% from last year. The results also reported that organisations hiring new talent from outside the UK would drop from 21% to 9%.

“While specific skills have been identified, it is less of a case of training people up to fill those roles. Instead, what is needed is an entire behavioural shift to focus on instilling particular traits and habits from a very young age, continued Tuffee.

“In practice, what is needed is a wider community engagement programme requiring support from key stakeholders including industry, education and government – by working together, we will then be able to harness characteristics needed to prosper such as curiosity, design innovation and problem-solving capabilities. Similar calls have been made within other industries such as manufacturing; the same focus on experimental learning needs to be applied for the technology sector.”

Tuffee also suggested that this is the first time concrete data has been made available about how a sector is responding to the UK leaving the EU.

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“The technology sector is built on the principles of embracing new ideas and new ways of thinking, and for this to be done effectively, it is important we are able to connect and leverage the best possible minds from wherever they are in the world. Brexit has changed this frontier, bringing with it uncertainty. For many industries, access to particular workforces with particular skill sets may not be readily available anymore and therefore organisations are having to rethink their strategy for maintaining and increasing innovation. In such an instance, we need to access the resources and talent closer to home and critically, this seems to be what is happening in Scotland within the tech sector.”

“Brexit has forced the hand of many organisations but critically, Scotland is taking the right approach by building up and growing local talent to assure its future. As a sector, digital technology within Scotland is one of the most exciting places to be. To preserve this, the emphasis must be about expanding mind-sets at a young age, not pigeonholing them into one set area.”

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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