A new network of four to five "skills academies" across the country will help transform Scotland's internationally-renowned centre of IT capability, according to the plan's principal architect John McClelland, the former IBM senior executive who now chairs the training agency Skills Development Scotland.
The plan, which is intended to support demand for 11,000 new Scottish IT jobs every year, was unveiled by First Minister Alex Salmond last Tuesday. It earmarks £6.6 million of public money over three years including the funding of the new centres of excellence in as yet undecided locations throughout Scotland.
The plan also includes measures to increase female participation in the IT sector, boost employer engagement with schools to improve the supply of qualified school leavers, and deliver 750 work placements for further and higher education students by 2016.
Interviewed by the Sunday Herald, McClelland said that there was no reason Scotland could not join the ranks of small countries renowned for their effective exploitation of IT capability, such as Estonia and New Zealand.
He said: "There is an unprecedented demand for ICT and digital technology professionals, and across Europe the number of jobs is growing by more than 100,000 each year. We need to make sure that Scotland is well placed to be able to take advantage of this growth.
"The Skills Investment Plan sets out a vision for Scotland to be viewed as a world-class location for ambitious ICT and digital technology businesses to be able to develop, invest and grow by having access to a talent pool with exceptional skills.
"To achieve this we have worked with the industry to identify the key actions which need to be undertaken to support the growth ambition of the sector."
McClelland, who spent 35 years in the industry, said that lack of qualified personnel was a problem for Scotland, and that moves to increase the supply of labour were not part of a "Stalinist" central planning exercise, but a necessary public-private drive to break down real and imagined barriers to entering the world of digital and computer technology, and make it "as attractive as it used to be" for young people.
He said: "We need to interest them in the industry but we need them to have the right qualifications to pursue a career, and that means that STEM subjects [science, technology, engineering and maths] are quite important. We do this through the education provision at primary, secondary, higher and further education levels helps the industry recruit and develop the skills."
SDS is working closely with industry to provide modern apprenticeships, including Microsoft, which has launched an apprenticeship programme and has pledged to work with partners, customers and other employers to recruit 2016 modern apprentices by 2016.
McClelland said that the new strategy, which follows a comparable SDS skills investment plan for energy, will be followed by one on life sciences, combined both short-term and long-term measures to boost the available talent pool. It includes measures to encourage workless people, including those with vocational rather than academic backgrounds, about the attractions of careers in ICT. Getting unemployed people into ICT jobs, he said, was a "win-win".
"Not every ICT job requires you to have a PhD," he said. "There are many people in many different walks of life, who have the aptitude. We have taken people from assembly lines, lots of different jobs, who have discovered a great aptitude for [software] coding, they have been contributing a lot. Some of the young ladies I have seen doing well in coding class have previously been stacking shelves or in other jobs that are outside the realm of the ICT industry.
"There are already ICT apprentices but we want to double or treble the amount. We can't get this from just turning on a tap, but with the skills academies we will have several taps."
Polly Purvis, chief executive of IT industry group ScotlandIS said: "We very much welcome the Skills Investment Plan. Access to skilled staff is the key challenge faced by the digital technologies industry, holding back growth and limiting its contribution to the Scottish economy. The plan provides a clear framework for action to address skills development at all levels - from school, through modern apprenticeships and colleges. It will enable the growth of local companies and bring exciting opportunities to our young people."