Showcasing talent in tech sector key to inspiring others

Sponsors of the Digital DNA Awards gathered at the Ormeau Baths last week to announce final plans for awards on July 1 2021.

It's great to see the short-list for the Digital DNA Awards being released this week.

The categories showcase some of the fantastic tech companies we have in Northern Ireland. Some of them are household names, but others are up and coming companies or those who have been quietly working away in their niche.

The categories include one for 'Tech for Good', and the short-list for it includes businesses that have played an important role in the pandemic.

For instance, TriMedika, which produces smart medical devices, and experienced a huge surge in demand for its contactless thermometers during the last year.

There are also categories for Workplace of the Year, Start-up of the Year, Developer of the Year, and more.

The winners are yet to be decided, but the short-list gives a real flavour of how vibrant the tech sector is in Northern Ireland, and also how it has really burgeoned in the last year. This has been extremely important for the economy.

I think the IT sector in particular has been on the frontline in this period. The sector has been resilient in the face of the pandemic and in some respects has been centrally involved in providing solutions to challenges brought about by Covid-19. Indeed, IT has played a critical role across most firms' responses.

When we look at the global landscape, there is confidence around the prospects for IT this year. Garter surveyed chief information officers (CIOs) at leading businesses and found 55 percent plan to increase their total number of full-time employees in IT across the course of this year.

Growth in security personnel for instance is necessary to reduce the risks from significant investments in remote work, analytics and cloud platforms.

At Cancom, we see it is a real imperative for businesses to be proactive in their approach to cyber-security risk and are seeing considerable demand for our expertise and skills in this area.

But whilst the demand for talent is clear, the big challenge comes on the skills supply side. With the tech sector growing and CIOs planning to recruit this year, there will no doubt be more pressure on the available talent.

As we know, this is a challenge Northern Ireland faces and is working to address. Given Northern Ireland's growing reputation in cyber-security – indeed, we hear it is the number one international investment location for US cyber security firms – the need for skills in this area is clear.

But it seems that there is not just a challenge around available skills in the workplace now. There might also be a challenge earlier in the pipeline.

At a UK level, the Learning & Work Institute says the number of young people taking IT subjects at GCSE has dropped 40 per cent since 2015.

And this is while demand for AI, cloud and robotics skills is soaring in a range of industries.

What is clear is that investment in the skills of our young people continues to be critical to ensure the talent that will enable our tech sector to continue to grow into the future.

And in that respect, it is positive to see that there is strong competition for the Young Person of the Year category in the Digital DNA Awards.

Showcasing our young tech talent to help inspire others to enter the sector is essential.

Patrick McAliskey is a strategic adviser at Cancom UK&I, which delivers a range of technology services across the public and private sectors.

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