Jane Morrison-Ross, chief executive of ScotlandIS

WRITTEN BY Jane Morrison-Ross, chief executive of ScotlandIS

We’re lucky in Scotland. Our Government recognise the ambition and talent that is inherent within the cyber industry and promotes the growth and innovation that is at its heart.

The partnership of ScotlandIS and Scottish Government last year to create Cyber Scotland Week is testament to that. We’re delighted that once again Cyber Scotland Week returns taking place between 17 – 23rd of February, it acts as a platform to raise awareness and showcase the innovation in cyber security across Scotland. 

The growth of the Scottish cyber cluster demonstrates our particular expertise in this area and shows Scotland as a secure place to do business. And why wouldn’t we be? Our academics are pioneers within higher education – Abertay University in Dundee was the world’s first university to offer an ethical hacking degree, and Strathclyde University the first in the UK to offer an MSc in fintech.

As a country we offer 24 cyber security degree courses across 8 universities, 2 graduate apprenticeship courses and 7 further education colleges offer HNC/D programmes.

But that doesn’t mean we’re without our challenges. Our digital technologies industry has a highly skilled workforce, but we need many more people to join the growing businesses across the sector. Encouraging an increasing number to pursue careers in technology is essential.

The widening skills gap is an ongoing problem for the sector as a whole, with research conducted last year showing year on year growth of the demand for new talent and over 13,000 vacancies unfilled. There are simply not enough college and university leavers, apprentices and career changers to keep up with this demand.

As the voice of the industry, ScotlandIS is continuing to identify new ways to close the skills gap and supply the industry with the talent it needs. Scottish cyber businesses can no longer rely on traditional means to secure talent, and in there are numerous potential rewards to be gained from taking an innovative approach.

As part of our soon to be launched ScotlandIS skills strategy and programme, we will shortly be launching our NPA in the Fundamentals of Computing in partnership with the University of the Highlands and Islands. The 10-week course covers cyber security, networking and server technology giving participants not only their NPA but also a CISCO cyber security accreditation. The first cohort of students will be from previously hard to reach groups who may not have engaged with education in the past, or who are not currently employed to offer them a new pathway into the digital sector. We’ll be working with partner organisations including Space and The Wise Group who have a unique reach into this previously untapped pool of talent. This is supported by Skills Development Scotland.

Another Skills Development Scotland supported initiative that ScotlandIS launched was CodeClan. This course alongside projects like CodeClan who retrain career changers, or the Digital Xtra Fund who fund extracurricular digital actives for children throughout Scotland are not enough. For businesses to expand the talent pool, they also need to explore non-traditional means of recruitment. 

Cyber companies in particular can maximise the advantages of a neurodiverse workforce and harness the power of diversity. Around 77 per cent of non neuro typical (NNT) adults would like to be in work however only 16 per cent are currently in full time employment. This presents a significant workforce within reach.

Companies need to think differently, be innovative and look for ways of attracting NNT recruits. This may mean thinking creatively about recruitment, selection, and career development strategies and working with partners to create and encompass a widened definition of digital talent.

There have been some fantastic examples of programmes around the world making real progress and it’s important that initiatives become more mainstream within our industry – and not just among the big players.

Some ScotlandIS members are already looking at ways to encourage NNT individuals into the digital workforce. Auticon for example, finds placements in digital tech for young people who are on the autistic spectrum. Their main goal is to encourage more employers to look at neurodiversity and value the benefits people with autism can bring to their business because of the unique way many of them process information. They have already seen positive results in Scotland, with interns flourishing at the Royal Bank of Scotland. Many of their students secure full-time employment as a result.

At ScotlandIS, we see an increasing demand for cyber security skills, and are actively addressing the skills gap – there are clear opportunities for the sector to be neurodiversity champions and to take one step closer to securing the talent our businesses need.