Already beset with a historic skills gap, recruitment across Scotland’s technology sector is facing further major waves as the pandemic and Brexit wash through the industry.

On one hand, some have suggested that the massive loss of employment in areas like hospitality and tourism will push a flood of new workers into tech careers. A recent survey from UK IT jobs board CWJobs found that among 1,026 non-tech workers, more than half of those thinking of a career change had considered or were in the process of moving to a tech-based role, with almost one in 10 having already made the move.

But on the other hand, Covid-19 is driving a surge in demand for the skills companies need to safely run their operations on a remote basis. This is exemplified by the triple-digit increase in ecommerce trading in the UK since the onset of the pandemic.

According to industry body ScotlandIS, there were about 13,000 digital technology vacancies across the country pre-Covid, with a “large proportion” of those going unfilled.

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Based on conversations with her clients, Net Talent chief executive Yvonne Moffat says the skills gap looks to be remaining “pretty much the same”. But in some ways, Covid has made the acquisition of local talent more difficult by spurring on the rise of “work from anywhere” (WFA).

“Scottish-based developers, for example, now have the option of working for companies right across the UK with the shift to remote working,” Ms Moffat said.

“Obviously we have the option to tap into the UK-wide talent pool too, but traditionally Scottish budgets are smaller than companies in London or other major UK cities, so it means there is a shift southward rather than north.”

Motivations among existing and potential tech staff are also changing. Those coming fresh into the industry tend to be focused on job security, while a survey carried out last month by Scotland’s Be-IT found that among existing tech staff, there has been a shift away from pay in favour of work-life balance.

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Be-IT chief executive Nikola Kelly says 90 per of those questioned don’t want to return to the office, making them far more open to WFA opportunities.

“That to me a recipe for concern,” she says, adding that her firm was recently approached by a company from South America looking to hire WFA staff in Scotland.

“Although there are not enough people with the necessary tech skills in the UK, these companies are aware that there are strong skills here, and they can engage with that,” she adds.

Both Ms Kelly and Ms Moffat’s agencies are focused on placing candidates in higher-level niche positions, which leaves them dubious as to whether large-scale efforts to retrain redundant workers from other sectors for entry-level jobs will have an impact on their markets. Ms Kelly also highlights the fact that many corporate projects put on hold at the beginning of lockdown are now being revived, creating a rush of work in the coming months.

“That does not allow the breathing space for an apprentice or a new recruit to the industry to find their feet,” she said.

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Jane Morrison-Ross, chief executive of ScotlandIS, is more upbeat about the potential to quickly retrain redundant workers from other sectors. She points to the variety of programmes on offer, ranging from the ScotlandIS partnership with the University of the Highlands and Islands through to Amazon’s re/Start programme and similar initiatives from other industry players such as Cisco.

“I don’t think any one supplier or organisation could do it alone,” she said. “That is why it is important that there are a number of different pathways.”

The further unknown on the horizon is the UK’s departure from the European Union at the end of this year, and what that will mean for work visas post-Brexit. With a significant number of non-UK passport holders working in senior roles in the sector across Scotland, this is expected to prove a further drain on the available skills pool.

“Although we have been talking about the skills gap in technology for many years, what has now come to the fore and the core is the need to access skills from every source available,” Ms Morrison-Ross said.

“The pandemic has increased and accelerated the demand for digital skills not just among our members, but across traditional industries as well.”