By Karen Meechan

IN August 2020, Scottish Government published the Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review. Ex-Skyscanner COO Mark Logan provided recommendations on how to develop our tech sector.

The report contained several salient observations and recommendations. One of which was that learning digital skills and foundational knowledge needs to start in our school classrooms. At ScotlandIS, we have had a longstanding ambition to bring industry and educators together to help students learn valuable digital skills, also aligning with the strategic vision of Skills Development Scotland.

Whilst subjects like maths and the sciences are core school subjects, computing science isn’t. Yet when you consider the career prospects of our young people, and how much these will lean on digital know-how and skills, now is the time to work with our schools to provide what will be lifelong abilities to students.

In digital tech alone, Scottish companies create 13,000 jobs per year. If we filled all of those roles, we would add £1 billion to Scotland’s economy. But this statistic doesn’t even capture the benefits that digital skills will bring to the economy more broadly. It’s projected that 80 per cent of jobs will require science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) skills, that can include softer digital skills like problem-solving and critical thinking, in the future.

For the past year, we have been working with Developing Young Workforce Glasgow to identify how to increase digital education, and start it earlier on.

How can industry work with our classrooms to strengthen digital skills training and career awareness from an earlier age?

Our work has culminated in the launch of what is now a hugely successful programme called Critical Friends which, piloted in Glasgow, has seen every secondary school paired with a voluntary Critical Friend: a member of the Scottish digital technology industry who works with teachers to provide them with insight and support they need to engage students with digital skills. Businesses of all sizes, from Codify to PwC and Leidos, have committed to the programme in Glasgow, with more businesses in touch regularly to get involved in other areas of Scotland.

The Digital Critical Friend informs teachers and pupils about the latest developments in the sector, where new technologies are, shares emerging career opportunities and how to access them, helps advocate within the school for and encourages young people into the subject. At ScotlandIS, we will also provide training for teachers through the Critical Friends network on subjects ranging from Python coding and JavaScript to cyber security.

The success of the pilot has created an opportunity to expand the programme into other local authorities, and our ambition is for Critical Friends to be paired with every Scottish secondary school. And we would encourage any business or educator with an interest in participating to get in touch.

Through Critical Friends, we are seeing the demand for systemic change in education to provide digital training at school level. We are also seeing the power of collaboration between a flourishing Scottish industry and our educators.

The programme has opened a pathway for industry and educators to work together to shape the curriculum for the future job market.

Karen Meechan is interim CEO at ScotlandIS