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Firms turn to Scots talent to fill digital skills gap

Polly Purvis

Polly Purvis: sector is showing confidence (photo by Terry Murden)

Scotland’s digital industry is turning to homegrown talent to counter an expected shortage of skilled people arriving from overseas, according to new research from ScotlandIS.

More firms expect growth in sales, profit and headcount this year, but skills shortages remain a issue for firms, who are tackling it by hiring more apprentices and more local staff.

For the first time since 2013, demand for experienced staff has outstripped that for graduates

A growing number of firms (73%) expect to recruit the majority of staff from within Scotland, compared to 60% in 2016. Recruits from overseas are expected to fall from 21% to 9%.

Polly Purvis, chief executive of ScotlandIS which conducted the research, said: “Our survey shows that more companies are looking to Scotland to recruit new employees. This is likely to be a sign of Brexit related concerns and the decreasing attractiveness of the UK for international talent.

She said the Scottish Technology Industry Survey, showed the confidence and resilience of the digital technologies industry which remains optimistic despite uncertainties in the political environment.

“This is great news not just for our sector, but also for the economy as a whole. The digital technologies industry generates over £5 billion in GVA for Scotland every year and is becoming more and more important in our increasingly digital world.”

Software and web development remain the most in demand skills but there is also a strong requirement for commercial, business support and project management skills, which are required by more than two thirds of companies. In this area sales and business development skills are particularly sought after.

Codeclan first intake

Codeclan’s first intake: retraining in digital skills (photo by Terry Murden)

“Initiatives like CodeClan, which enables people to retrain and transition into new careers in the digital technologies sector, and the new apprenticeship frameworks are helping Scotland to meet the increasing demand for home-grown talent,” said Mrs Purvis.

“However, further industry investment in skills is now needed more than ever, particularly around work-based learning and up-skilling the existing workforce.”

The survey found that 82% of businesses expect sales to increase this year 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.

Overall 78% of firms forecast that they will hire more staff in 2017, compared with 66% in 2016. This rises to 84% for small businesses when taken on their own.

ScotlandIS welcomed the Scottish Government’s commitment to develop a £36 million, three-year support fund to meet the upfront business costs of digital skills training.

It will see up to 6,000 people a year able to access the training they need in key areas like software development, web design and digital marketing.

The ScotlandIS hiring forecast figures are in line with new research commissioned by the Digital Technologies Skills Group that found that there are an estimated 12,800 digital technologies job opportunities available every year and the average salary has increased to £37,500.

Over 90,000 people now work in digital technologies roles across the economy (up from 84,000 last year) with 40% of those individuals working in specialist technology companies and 60% working in other sectors. The Digital Technologies Skills Group will launch its full skills report on Scotland’s technology sector on 20 April in Edinburgh at Action on Digital Skills: Inspiring Initiatives.

Gordon Brown, ScotlandIS board member and head of technology and digital at survey sponsor Nine Twenty Technology, said: “There are some huge opportunities for Scottish businesses to take responsibility for change.

“As business leaders we need to promote our sector by partnering with schools and universities to showcase the opportunities and career paths that are available for the next generation to pursue.

He continued: “The reality is, if we don’t invest more heavily in our sector and in the early lives of future generations we will never be able to keep up with demand for skilled people. 

“For companies to continue to grow and succeed, talent attraction, modern engagement techniques and succession planning strategies need to be flexible.  

“People want to feel valued, engaged and part of the company journey, and in a candidate driven market it is a risky tactic for employers to ignore what the next generation is looking for.”

Shortlist for ScotlandIS Digital Technology Awards

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