Challenges for the Photonics industry in Scotland

Challenges for the Photonics industry in Scotland

A recruiter’s view

In my role as a recruiter, I speak with numerous business leaders about their businesses and the landscape within which they operate. In fact, one might argue that recruitment gives a great insight into and acts as a barometer of the state of the market.

Here is what I believe are the 3 key challenges but also big hopes for the Photonics industry in Scotland



Photonics is the core of everything so it is important for the industry to highlight that without the Photonics industry you don’t have a space industry, you don’t have a renewables industry and many others. The profile of Photonics needs to be raised in order to be better able to attract investment and talent. If Photonics doesn’t get funded properly you will not be able to work on all the other industries that one might think are a priority.

I think we need to do a lot more to showcase the industry to help with talent attraction especially of school age and school leavers into courses that will feed into the photonics industry. I spoke with a 5th year student recently about what they wanted to do and I nearly fell off my chair when they said Photonics. They didn’t know my connection to the industry. Their enthusiasm for the types of technology and industries that Photonics impacts was infectious. The Photonics industry must work harder to demonstrate the growth, the career prospects, the real-world problems it solves and the diversity of roles. We need to show that everything from agriculture to the space industry can be impacted by Photonics.


Growth, skills and D&I

It is great to see the presence of Scottish Government at events like the 30th anniversary of Photonics Scotland and the clear sign that they are seeing, learning and agreeing to how important Photonics is to industry and the economy.

There is a clear skills shortage in Photonics in Scotland, in the UK and in fact globally. Not just in Photonics but across many industries. The competition for talent within the industry but also attracting talent into the industry competing with software, renewable energy and of course finance, medicine and law for the same skill base is a huge challenge for the industry and salaries in these industries are often quoted as being higher than Photonics can offer. We are seeing significant pressure on the Photonics industry, and I can tell you that most graduates are looking for salaries upwards of £30k with PhD graduates looking for between £40,000 and £45,000 and in some cases commanding salaries upwards of £60,000.

There is a clear challenge for the Photonics industry to start paying the kind of salaries that are going to excite people. Access to talent is a challenge as well with the reduced flow of candidates into the UK following Brexit

There are hopes that a drive for diversity and inclusion in Photonics will help tap into new talent pools and attracting more women into Photonics is a positive way of accessing 50% of the population that has so far been woefully underrepresented in the industry. The other benefit of this is that it brings in a different element of critical thinking. The 2020 McKinsey and Company “Diversity wins” report that showed there was a 19% improvement in profitability from having a diverse workforce so it makes business sense. From a people and interpersonal perspective having people from different backgrounds with different thinking you are not just robots thinking the same thing you’ve got somebody challenging you in different ways and I think that can only be good for the industry.



One big challenge the Photonics industry still has is investment. It is important that investors understand the type of capital expenditure a Photonics company carries versus say a fintech company and also the length of time it takes to reach maturity. Investment is very much needed though. Looking at what other countries do there are some good examples of how to resolve this issue.  In the Netherlands, the Photonics cluster there lobbied the government for funding to fund Photonics spin outs and growth. 500 million euros from the government was then matched by industry from that grew Photon Delta. Company heads that I have spoken to feel that investment money is often too slow or drip fed in a way that does not allow the business to push forward. There is a consistent argument that the investment model in Scotland is flawed and that is one thing that will and is holding companies back.

Enigma People Solutions is an award-winning technology recruitment consultancy. We find technical leaders for the emerging and enabling technology industries. Visit our services page for more information. Visit our job search page for the latest vacancies in photonics, electronics, semiconductor, software and IoT in Scotland and the UK. Check out our blog page for the latest in the technology industry. You can get in touch with us or call us on + 44 131 510 8150