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Tapping into neurodiverse talent is essential to bridge Scotland’s digital skills gap

In this thought piece, ScotlandIS CEO, Karen Meechan, urges employers to be more open-minded with regards to recruiting neurodiverse individuals, as this could be crucial in reducing the tech skills gap.

Scotland’s growing digital technology sector is forward-thinking, and our hiring and training processes should reflect this.

According to recent research conducted by Skills Development Scotland (SDS), at least 10% of Scotland’s population is believed to be neurodivergent – a term referring to those that differ in mental or neurological function from what is considered typical or ‘normal.’

As many people will go through life undiagnosed, that’s probably an underestimate.

We have long acknowledged a skills shortage in the digital tech sector. By tapping into this wealth of talent we could help bridge that gap – particularly as we start to navigate post-pandemic challenges and opportunities in the workplace.

With this in mind, so much more could be done to support and offer career pathways to our neurodiverse talent.

Individuals with conditions such as Autism, Dyslexia or ADHD often demonstrate strong skills and qualities and can be particularly well suited to the needs of digital technology employers – especially those in the cyber security and testing space.

Neurodiverse individuals are often adaptive to detail oriented, methodical, highly focused and problem solving issues.

Yet much like other diverse groups, neurodiverse individuals often hit societal barriers. A survey conducted by the National Autistic Society found that over 75% of autistic adults would like to work full-time. Yet only 16% are in full-time employment with a further 16% in part-time roles in the UK.

Working with our education partners, we must take greater action to attract this rich stream of talent into the digital tech sector. Recruiting neurodiverse talent will not only help to diversify our workforces and provide much-needed skills, but will also help to fill the some-odd 13,000 tech jobs that go vacant each year.

Doing this wouldn’t pose a significant challenge for employers, either.

Amending job advertisements to be more inclusive and easier to comprehend, and generally creating recruitment processes that rely more heavily on practical task-based interviews can be easily implemented; yet will make all the difference in attracting a wider breadth of talent.

Practices that include ensuring open and transparent communication in the recruitment process, sending interview questions in advance and not relying too heavily on written CVs will help attract not only neurodiverse individuals, but also open up tech roles to a more diverse demographic more generally, so that people are judged more on practical skill for the role, allowing more diverse backgrounds – from neurodiverse individuals to career changers or apprentices – to be more competitive in the process.

It’s important for businesses to reflect this inclusive recruitment process in the actual job, and cost-effective solutions can also be introduced across offices such as quiet working spaces, this will not only help cater to more diverse individuals once they’re in post, but be beneficial for all employees .

ScotlandIS is hosting an event on Global Accessibility Awareness Day (19 May), in partnership with Sopra Steria, SDS and Inclusion Scotland, to address why neurodiversity is important and beneficial to businesses, what adjustments can be made to help attract and support non-neurotypical people, and what useful resources are available to support with these efforts.

We’re also part of the SDS Neurodiversity Workstream, along with several other partners, which aims to advise employers of these talent opportunities where appropriate. As part of this collaboration, resources were developed to help employers better understand neurodiversity and make organisational changes.

By starting with some small changes to our approach, the tech sector could reap significant rewards to champion neuro inclusivity.

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