Leadership Perspectives | Demystifying technology to address the skills shortage
Technology has become so pervasive, embedded in the details of virtually every industry that the word itself has arguably lost its meaning.
The shortage of “technical skills” does not escape this criticism. It became an umbrella soundbite; it really only serves to make any subsequent discourse redundant – failing to inform a landscape that encompasses huge swathes of skills with vastly different entry points and means of consolidation at the local level.
It’s a sentiment certainly not lost on Alex Clyne, co-founder of Jump Digital, who tries to disrupt the outdated mystique of “technology” and make it exactly what it should be so everyone can access a career in – tangible.
“The word tech is 1970s/80s terminology,” Clyne says, but also says “it’s even more important than ever to admit that it’s okay not to know all the answers.”
He adds: “Only one person in our organization has a degree in computer science, but we are working on NFTs, quantum computing solutions, blockchain and the training needed to enable the workforce of these areas.”
Engage technology in a better way
There’s an enduring narrative in Scotland – which is well-meaning – that we’re striving to be the next Silicon Valley – and it may not be the ambitious endgame we should be actively pursuing, as the center of technological innovation has undoubtedly already moved to Texas and Georgia
“It shouldn’t be a bad faith argument,” as Alex puts it: “Instead of trying to create the next Silicon Valley – which we’ll never do anyway – we should be looking at the industries we already have distinguished ourselves, things like STEM, education, tourism, oil and gas, renewable energy, food and beverage, etc.
“How can we allow them to be smarter? »
Much of the discourse began to focus on basic technology education, for example – should kids learn to code in school?
In Alex’s experience, it’s when people start working that they want to have lateral movement in their careers.
Providing flexible ways to learn new skills, in digestible courses that demystify the inaccessibility of the larger technological concern is something very much within Jump Digital’s purview.
Alex says: “With the first masters we offered (in digital marketing/disruption leadership), we found that 54% of people who took the course were women, in an industry that has around 90% of men.
“Why? They could do it when it suited them – for example, we even had people taking the course while on maternity leave.
There’s a lot to be said for an education/development framework that creates digestible and flexible engagement with salient technology topics that are genuinely useful to employers and provide individuals with an exponential number of career options.
Alex expands on this by saying, “Traditional university programs are now under threat, especially longer courses and multi-year degree courses, as people seek short career/employability programs, with credentials that employers will understand and demand. “
He adds: “It is very important that digital/data/technical skills can be taught in isolation, along with topics such as new business models, climate and innovation, etc.”
This fits well with the latest offering from Alex and the Jump Digital team.
The digital pilot’s license
Created and widely supported in its development by Skills Development Scotland (SDS) and SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority), the Digital Pilot License (DPL) comprises five acceleration programmes, fully online and accessible 24/7 at a pace that controls the learner, with support available.
The NEERSF DPL offers four programs; digital marketplace; Generate value from data; Climate and wellness solutions, each teaching in-demand digital skills., Business Blockchain optional.
Speaking of the DPL, Alex says, “We did some research in 2019 with an industry advisory board and went to industry-leading organizations and asked, ‘If you had a magic wand, how would you would you train your staff in the future?”
“Five themes emerged: we want our employees to understand data and digital at a holistic level; understand what works; why it is important to understand; enabling people to work from home and finally, understanding the bigger issues around environmental concerns so they can become better citizens. All this, in addition to stretching them with emerging technology.
“From this we derived the Digital Pilot License, which is now credited at SCQF Level 7.”
Courses are well advanced, available to those living in Aberdeen and across Aberdeenshire, delivered over 12 weeks at 15 hours per week.
Is there really a skills shortage and demand for digital/data savvy employees?
According to Alex, you can’t just view this as a skills shortage, there needs to be a reframing of how we view the problem.
“I think there are a myriad of macro factors – issues like not having IT teachers in the Highlands are a real challenge for those who live there.”
There are a lot of great coding initiatives going on in Scotland, Alex’s concern is that it’s seen as the “silver bullet” and from a business perspective it’s – as Alex puts it – “nice to have but not essential as kids will grow up with coding as a basic skill anyway, through games like Minecraft, Roblox, etc.”
Alex expands on this: “Digital is moving so fast that we can just buy what we need when we need it and then call on skills for short periods of time if we have to.”
The advent of low code further adds to a compelling argument around a holistic view when it comes to technology education and development. This holistic view, analogously, can be extended to include the Scottish tech business community, which Alex says needs to collaborate better.
“Personally, I’m frustrated in Scotland with operating in silos – all in the same tech space without talking to each other, and we don’t even recognize Blockchain, one of our hottest educational products over the past three years.
These conversations don’t operate in silos; the company takes a holistic approach and works through the path. Right now, we are in danger of becoming technological echo chambers.
Conversely, according to Alex, the discussion of jobs within the tech ecosystem seems mired in anecdotal evidence, confirmation bias, and sometimes even bad faith arguments.
“People, over the past six years, keep telling me there are 15,000 digital/data jobs available in Scotland. Again frustratingly I would say there is none. I keep asking, what are the vacancies? If we know what they are, we can do something about it,” says Alex.
He adds: “We need to take a 10-year view – what will we need in a decade? What do we expect in 10 years? The tech landscape will be fundamentally different – for those so-called 15,000 jobs, let’s fix the most crucial ones, macroeconomics will take care of the rest.
“Considering where we will be technologically in 10 years and adjusting the deployment of skills and education to respond to that is what is most important.
“The world has evolved and is moving faster and faster every day. Start planning for the future and stop applying 20th century solutions to the 21st Problems of the century.