I spent a very pleasant evening in Edinburgh this week surrounded by some amazing young people at Scotland’s Modern Apprenticeship Awards, which was sponsored for the second year in a row by CGI.  I was greatly inspired by the hard work and ingenuity of the prizewinners who are just beginning to start their careers in industries such as IT, construction and retail.  These young people are the future of our country.

I was even more delighted that attending these awards gave me the chance to repeat our pledge that we will work with Skills Development Scotland and several Scottish universities to create the first degree-level apprenticeships in digital skills.  Over the next two years we will fund at least 20 of these graduate apprenticeships in Scotland.

Earlier in the day the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, welcomed our pledge, the first company in Scotland to sign up to the new apprenticeships. She knows the value of digital to Scotland.  The First Minister predicted the contribution of digital services to the Scottish economy will more than double from £4.5 billion to £10 billion by 2030.

Our investment in the future of the country’s growing IT sector offers an exciting new route into the industry.  Our apprentices will ‘Earn as they Learn’, which means they will be work ready when they receive their qualification and we hope that they will go on to have exciting careers with CGI, a company with a global footprint.

The IT industry is one of Scotland’s fastest growing sectors with 11,000 new vacancies expected every year until at least 2020. Jobs in this field offer amazing opportunities for the right people, paying well above average and having excellent career advancement opportunities.

However, as a country, we are not producing enough people with the right skills to fill these new jobs.  In fact, many experts reckon that this skills gap is one of the biggest challenges facing the Scottish economy today.

The future is digital and we need to make sure we have enough new entrants coming into the industry to maximise the benefits for the people of Scotland.

As a company, we are committed to Scotland and apprenticeships.  In July, we promised to create 200 new jobs and 60 modern apprentices in the capital when we were awarded a seven-year contract worth £186 million by the City of Edinburgh Council to improve digital services for citizens.

We also have a significant presence in the west.  Two years ago we set up an Open Digital Services Centre in Glasgow city centre, which will eventually create more than 250 high quality jobs.

We recognise enterprise and education need to work in partnership to address the skills gap - from the development of work-based learning to ensuring all of our young people have the chance to learn computing science in our classrooms.

Personally, I worry about the serious gender gap that remains in the IT sector.  When I entered the industry in the 80s, I was considered to have made a really unusual choice for a woman.  I am amazed, and concerned, that the situation has become even worse.  It saddens me that many young women still do not choose to take up a career in IT.  It is a creative, team-orientated industry that is highly valued, offering excellent opportunities to travel and flexible working options.

Unless more women enter the field, we will continue to lose out on 50% of the workforce.  Again, this must be tackled by both enterprise and education.  Business has to showcase the seriously attractive jobs on offer and our education system must encourage more female pupils to study STEM subjects.

By working together, businesses, the third sector, the government and councils will all be able to help plug the digital skills gap in Scotland, boosting the prospects of our young people.

Young Scot is a charity already doing this successfully through the Young Scot Digital Academy.  In partnership with local councils and companies, they have developed excellent opportunities for young people in Scotland to learn the skills required to work in major IT companies, boosting their prospects in this increasingly digital age.

Anyone interested in the modern apprenticeship programme should go to the Skills Development Scotland website.

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