Digital technology experts are being sought to help inform teaching in Scottish secondary schools as the country’s tech industry experiences remarkable growth.
The Digital Critical Friends initiative has been set up by Scotland’s tech trade body, ScotlandIS, to address the industry’s skills gap and tackle high Computer Science drop-off rates in a time when one in ten jobs in Scotland is in the tech sector.
As demand for their services increase, Scottish tech businesses are continuing to face challenges, with 23% citing a lack of basic data skills and 37% reporting a lack of advanced digital skills among their existing workforces.
The Digital Critical Friends initiative aims to link industry professionals with Computer Science educators to support the alignment of lessons with industry best practices and offer students a holistic view of sector opportunities.
Tech professionals – from IT technicians to software engineers – are being encouraged to volunteer to take part in the programme that will help to shape schools’ curriculums.
Fiona Anderson, Project Manager at software development and digital transformation company PDMS, partnered with St Margaret’s High School in North Lanarkshire as part of the programme. She said: “It’s important for schools to have direct links with the tech sector so pupils can ask questions and get inspired by the potential career paths that they perhaps weren’t aware of previously.
“Giving young people an idea of the skillsets required for the various jobs in our sector can really help to give them direction for the future. For example, discussing how good attention to detail and problem-solving skills are key for analysis and testing jobs, or that design roles might be well-suited to those who are keen on art and design or who have a creative flair, can help students understand which roles in our industry might be a good fit for them.”
Karen Meechan, CEO of ScotlandIS, said: “While our well-established tech sector is growing, companies today are finding it difficult to recruit with today’s shortage of skills. Our mission is to engage and inspire young minds while bridging the skills gap.
“Scotland’s tech sector is dynamic, exciting and offers a brilliant career path for young people today. But given the fast nature of the industry, the changes in how we use and develop technology can’t always be reflected in how the subject is taught in schools. There is no better way to protect the industry’s promising growth trajectory, and job opportunities of school leavers, than to build a direct line of contact between schools and professionals.
“We’re looking forward to working alongside new industry partners as we work to equip students with industry-relevant skills.”
Becoming a Digital Critical Friend involves an initial face-to-face meeting with a local school. The volunteers then maintain regular contact with teachers to help inform teaching, with at least one in-person meeting per term. Additionally, mentors have the opportunity to invite teachers to their workplace, providing them with an immersive experience, observing their teams and gaining insights into ongoing project.
Karen added: “We understand that each professional and each school will be balancing different priorities, which is why we’ve ensured that the programme can be tailored to best suit the needs of each party. For example, we have a school on the Isle of Barra looking for a Digital Critical Friend, which they appreciate will most likely have to be conducted remotely!”
The Digital Critical Friends programme was first launched in 2021, and is now active in over six regions. After a successful start, ScotlandIS is now looking to expand the programme across all regions in Scotland.
To find out more about becoming a Digital Critical Friend, visit the ScotlandIS website.