Scotland’s technology and academia sectors are being urged to help more neurodivergent people achieve employment to plug the country’s widening digital skills gap.
In a report published today (1st October), Skills Development Scotland warned that technology companies across the country are missing out on a massive talent pool.
Neurodiversity in Digital Technology states that at least 1 in 10 of Scotland’s population are neurodivergent. However, the true number could be far higher as many people remain undiagnosed or fail to report themselves.
While no figures currently exist that detail the entire population of neurodivergent people in work, statistics relating to autism showed that just 16% were in full-time employment.
Additionally, more than three-quarters of those employed revealed they want to work more hours but couldn’t find suitable opportunities.
Claire Gillespie, Digital Technologies Skills Manager at Skills Development Scotland, said employers throughout the Scottish tech sector must take action.
“With more than 13,000 job opportunities waiting to be filled in the tech sector, we need to look at as many different ways as possible to plug that skills gap,” she said.
A core recommendation of the SDS report is that tech employers take action to benefit from increased neurodiversity in their teams, including changing job ads to be more inclusive and easier to read and introduce more flexible recruitment processes that aren’t focused on form filling.
Employers are also urged to offer more practical, task-based interviews for job applicants to appeal to a wider range of people. The report also underlines the importance of academia in encouraging neurodivergent people to pursue careers or further education in technology.
Present Pal founder Chris Hughes chairs the SDS working group on tech and neurodiversity. Speaking at the report launch today at ScotSoft 2020, Hughes emphasised the importance of changing attitude towards neurodiversity in workplaces.
“We need to nurture neurodivergent talent from a young age. As the founder of a tech startup myself, and having dyslexia, I know how challenging it can be on that learning journey,” he said.
“We need to change the attitudes of those with a poor understanding of neurodiversity, as well as their reactions to people who display different behaviours,” Hughes added.
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A key focus moving forward, Hughes suggested, should be a culture change in the way neurodivergent people are taught. This could include less focus on writing for those with dyslexia, for example, and less group work for those with autism.
“This can make a huge difference in people’s lives. And in turn, that will have a positive impact on the tech sector skills gap,” Hughes said.
Hughes was joined on the ScotSoft panel by Beverley Harrow, a parent neurodiversity campaigner. As the mother of two children with Asperger’s, Harrow detailed her oldest son’s experiences in pursuing a career in cybersecurity.
Geordie, 16, attended an SDS workshop on ethical hacking at Abertay University and is now undertaking a Foundation Apprenticeship in Software engineering following that workshop.
“Big companies, such as SAP, have been running pro-ND campaigns for a number of years and reports say that the programmes are ‘already paying off in ways far beyond reputational enhancement’,” she said.
Some of the benefits highlights include productivity gains, quality improvement, boosts in innovative capabilities and increases in employee engagement, she explained.
“That’s the message that needs to be promoted. I strongly believe that disability should never be a barrier to achievement, but to facilitate success it will take the combined skills of the educator and employers to make this the norm, rather than the exception,” Harrow added.
During the report launch, SDS revealed it has been working on a new initiative with the Scottish Government to improve career prospects for neurodivergent people in cybersecurity.
Inverness College UHI, Edinburgh Napier University, West Lothian College and Perth Autism Support have received grants totalling £150,000 to develop new education programmes specifically designed to tackle some of the challenges mentioned in the report.