THAT Scotland is a nation of inventors and creators is beyond dispute. Our fast-moving technology sector is seeing companies spring up with multinationals rushing to take advantage of our excellent technical skills. But beyond the age-old boasts about steam engines, television and penicillin, it is clear that skills shortages are hampering progress in key areas. Many businesses are struggling to find enough computer science graduates.
Recent research highlighted the need for more skilled software engineers and project and product managers as well as marketing and sales people.
Women are particularly under-represented. It’s a scandal that, on average, only 14 per cent of computing students are female.
Research suggests that women still think of computer science as a subject for geeks. More needs to be done to dispel this myth so the jobs of the future can be filled. And the work has to start early by highlighting the range of jobs and career opportunities that exist here in Scotland. Only then can we arrest the downward slide in the number of pupils taking computing exams – and see an increase in the number of school-leavers applying for computing degrees.
The challenges faced by the sector are recognised by the Scottish Government. Ministers recently announced £6.6 million of investment to boost our tech workforce. Scotland’s £4 billion IT industry is booming, with 45,000 jobs expected to be created over the next five years.
Universities are also stepping up to the plate and forging close partnerships with business.
Innovative courses are on offer, such as Edinburgh Napier University’s Strategic ICT Leadership MSc – which, like an MBA, embeds study in the workplace.
But other measures are also being used to help industry connect with talented students, including the Scottish Funding Council’s ongoing support for a unique project aimed at creating paid placement opportunities for computing students.
Now in its fifth year, e-Placement Scotland attracts students into the industry while they work towards their degrees. The industry offers huge opportunities and highly paid, interesting jobs in roles as diverse as software development, digital marketing and product management.
In Scotland, the IT sector competes for the top students with more established professions such as medicine, law and accountancy, where career structures are more recognisable, both by pupils and, importantly, by their parents who influence their decisions.
By providing a way to learn and earn through placements, more Scottish students can be attracted to computing.
Sally Smith is head of Edinburgh Napier’s School of Computing