Leading the way to end the war on talent

By Huw Martin

As a Welshman hailing from the Valleys of south Wales, it was obvious that I was going to love rugby. I had no choice! My grandfather (an old miner) made sure that I watched videos (remember them?) of the 70s Welsh team on a weekly basis!

Paul_O'Connell_e-mulvey

I have always been inspired by the leadership skills of some of the best Rugby captains. Take Paul O’Connell (pictured here); he’s a born leader (although can’t imagine he’s any good at career development meetings) who leads by example, drags others along with him and always seems to have a clear vision of what needs to be achieved.

How is this relevant to IT and the skills landscape in Scotland?

Well, let me try to explain.

No matter who you listen to, what reports you read, or what experts present to us,  it is clear for us all to see that the IT industry faces huge challenges developing the future talent we will need to drive our economy in the years to come.

It doesn’t mean we can’t fix it, and it’s by no means the end of the world, but there is no way we can assume that the status quo is adequate for what lies ahead.

Skills

I’m involved in a number of initiatives (outwith the usual remit of an MD of a mid-sized recruitment business) which all revolve around skills and people development.  Wow, you might say, a recruitment guy dealing with skills – this IS groundbreaking stuff! Get me on the cover of Forbes magazine!

No,  I mean I’m involved in a few initiatives with private companies, trade bodies, government departments etc. specifically looking at how we as an industry can think holistically, and deal with the key challenges we face in the IT sector.

There’s an FS IT skills panel, StartEDIN and various other groups and meet-ups, all with a focus around tech skills, the wider ecosystem, and ways of developing the future talent we all need for our country to prosper.

The Challenges

What these various groups and initiatives have shown me is thatthere is not enough coordination across the industry to ensure that we are as efficient as possible. There are so many groups and bodies across the country doing so many good things, but this mix of initiatives lacks that all-important collaboration that it desperately needs.

At the last FS session a few weeks ago, the ask from the group was what groups are involved in skills development in Scotland and how do we as employers engage with them?

A simple enough question that you’d hope would be a simple enough answer… er…

Now these groups all work extremely hard for the right reasons, but I can’t help think that given the competition for government funding that all the councils in Scotland – as well as the bodies listed above – should perhaps be pooling their resources, working far more collaboratively to try to achieve the best outcomes.

Let me clarify, in absolutely no way am I criticising the groups or companies above, and I’m certainly not suggesting that I have a magic wand and can make everything better so that we suddenly have 100,000 new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) graduates flooding the marketplace to meet our requirements.

However, what I can say is that many hands make light work! I also know that different organisations taking multiple small pieces of an ever decreasing Scotch pie (excuse the pun) is not going to achieve the best result.

What might help?

In all my conversations with companies who want to engage with schools/colleges/universities etc, it’s clear that they need help too. There are many different companies engaging independently with these educational bodies, but it’s all a little disparate, and often from a position of self-interest. Whether it’s different city councils competing for funding or inward investment, whether its colleges and unis competing with each other, trade bodies and academies for young people, or end companies themselves – they’re pretty much all scrabbling around to try and capture the next batch of fresh graduates. It’s all a little piecemeal and reactionary on an ad-hoc basis.

Wouldn’t it be great if we had someone whose job it was to look at the future pipeline of demand and supply, work with industry as well as government to ensure that there is a sustainable future for the tech scene in Scotland. There is a danger that simply paying more and more money for the shrinking pool of tech talent will mean another huge chunk of Scotland’s industry gets chopped up and shipped off to the cheapest providers and we have the same skills shortages for the next 50 years.

Paul O’Connell would be a great choice… if he had a software engineering background, had links into government in Scotland and friends in the high places in IT and Scotland’s largest companies…

Oh well, back to the drawing board!

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