Bridging the digital skills gap – 5 minutes with CodeClan’s CEO

How joining Scotland’s first digital skills academy can help SME employers hire the skilled developers they need to target growth

Set up in 2015 to help answer Scotland’s digital skills shortage, Edinburgh-headquartered CodeClan has quickly become the go-to digital skills academy for career changers who want to learn coding to secure better paid and more exciting jobs across a range of industries, from FinTech to accounting and even PR.
But the organisation’s appeal extends much further than the students embracing its crash course in Software Development. CodeClan has grown to become a tried and trusted matchmaker for employers looking for the right cyber savvy candidate for their next big digital project. It’s growing community now boasts more than 100 employers, including Intelligent Point of Sale, Tesco Bank, Inoapps, Adobe, and Deloitte.
Here, CodeClan CEO Harvey Wheaton, an Oxford University graduate in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, who also took a non-traditional route into the technology sector, talks about how SMEs can also benefit from the CodeClan community, which is free to join and can be a more cost effective, alternative route to recruiting experienced software developers and other digital specialists to help take your business to the next level.

Q&A with Harvey Wheaton

Q: Did you found the organisation?
A: No, we were set up as part of the Government’s Skills Investment Plan, supported by Skills Development Scotland and ScotlandIS. CodeClan is a not-for-profit social enterprise. We are funded from the course fees our students pay, the contribution our employer partners make when they hire one of our students, and some backing from the Scottish Government through Skills Development Scotland. Our aim is to become self-sufficient and close the gap between what it costs to run the courses and the funding provided by the Scottish Government.
Q: How long has CodeClan been up and running?
A: It’s been up and running for 18 months. We took in our first cohort of 15 students in October 2015, which is roughly when I joined. We started out gently and faced the same start-up rollercoaster as all new enterprises. Then we launched in Glasgow this January. We are now on our 12th cohort of students, with the 13th intake due in a few weeks. We have worked with 220 students, including 80 on cohorts currently running and 140 of whom have gone on to complete the course. We have managed to get around 86% of them into work (mainly with our partner employers) within six months of completing the course and 50% of our students find work within six weeks of finishing. Over 90% of these students are employed in Scotland and tend to be career changers who already have work experience, with the average age around 31. The majority of them have given up jobs to study with us and don’t want to do another degree or college course.
Q: Did it take a while to really catch on?
A: Yes, it took a while but we’re lucky to have some fantastic people working with us from the outset to help develop the business. There were – and still are – companies which don’t see the benefit of working with us but we’re glad to have picked up a number of converts along the way. Things have really turned a corner in the last 12 months or so. We’ve gone from having 12 to 15 partner employers on board to 105, which range from start-ups to large multinationals. We have new companies joining every week and are expecting to be working with more than 200 employers by the end of the year.
Q: Why are we facing such a big digital skills shortage?
A: There are a number of reasons, such as the speed at which digital is developing and the sheer volume of technology which exists in the world today. No one can live without web applications and intelligent systems. Technology is also changing very quickly. Digital also seems to have skipped a couple of generations in mainstream education after the curriculum switched its focus from coding to ICT (Information Communication Technologies) and office-based applications. But the skills shortage isn’t just in Scotland, it’s a global phenomenon.
Q: How do students fund the course – is there funding available?
A: The majority of students fund the course themselves, or borrow from the likes of friends and family. We are starting to see more funding options become available, though. There’s the Professional Career Development Loan and those who come from an oil and gas background can apply for the Transition Training Fund.  Crowdfunding is also starting to come to the fore.
Q: How much does it cost?
A: £4,500
Q: What can students expect to receive at the end of the 16-week course?
A: We are an SQA-accredited centre so students can achieve a Level 8 SQA Personal Development Award (PDA) in Software Development and, of course, in the majority of cases, a job with one of our partner employers.
Q: What kind of roles and at what starting salary can they expect?
A: Although salary can vary from between £18k and £35k depending on the role, the average is around £24k. Roles also vary, from the likes of development and testing, to customer-facing positions.
 Q: Do you ever employ anyone directly after they’ve completed the course?
A: Absolutely. One of our biggest challenges is finding instructors who are experienced developers. The kind of people we want are exactly the kind of people we are trying to train. That’s why we take on CodeClan graduates at the end of the course as technical assistants. Of our 15 instructors, seven have come through our course. There are 30 of us in total.
Q: What are the benefits of employers partnering up with CodeClan rather than using recruitment agencies or employing computer science graduates?
A: We match them with a different kind of person. Our students tend to have more work experience and maturity and are incredibly passionate and motivated about digital. Our course also focuses on industry-relevant skills and produces great software developers who are trained in best practice and are good all-rounders. We also introduce people in a much gentler, less risky way and can offer support from what is a rapidly-expanding digital business community. It’s about gentle match-making. Based on our experience, we’ve also found that recruiters can struggle to find developers at entry or junior level.
Q: What about the cost to employers?
A: Our fee is tiered but there’s no financial commitment to join. We only ask for a retrospective contribution to a student’s course fees should employers decide to go ahead and hire them. This ranges from £1,500 for small businesses to £5,000 for larger firms. You only pay when you hire and it’s free to browse profiles, meet candidates and engage with our community.
Q: What are you most excited about at the moment?
A: I’m excited and frustrated all at the same time because there’s so much we want to do! I’m incredibly excited about what we’ve achieved. Looking forward, I’d like to see the course becoming more modular. Ideally, the first part of the programme will be a crash course in coding and the second part will become more specialist so students can pick and choose which disciplines they’d like to focus on. This might include data, digital marketing, technical and project management modules, for example. We might even make some of the course more sector specific – to cover finance, for example. I’d also like to develop our part-time classes, which 90 people – who can’t commit to attending full time – have already benefited from.
I’d also like to see CodeClan supporting entrepreneurs who, after the course, are keen to start up their own businesses. We’d like to help them secure funding and workspace, for example. And I’d also like to encourage and support some of our students into teaching.
Read more about CodeClan’s expansion into Glasgow here