WE were proud of our creative friend when, a few years ago – and as a man of a certain age – he announced he was studying to be a software coder.

Quite brilliant at his primary instrument, he was letting his virtuosic fingers fall to the computer keyboard, screwing another leg onto his career stool.

“I’m at something called CodeClan”, he told us.

“Brutally pulls you through it, but makes you job-ready by the end.”

The news came this week that Scotland’s intensive coding school CodeClan, based at the foot of Edinburgh Castle, had gone into commercial liquidation. Starting up in 2015, it was conceived as a pipeline to produce local Scottish coding talent, for local Scottish company requirements.

£7000 fees, 16 intense weeks of digital bootcamp.

As recently as March, CodeClan’s new CEO was announcing that there were “20,000 coding jobs out there”. This number was no doubt informed by their over 300 industry partners, including Skyscanner, FanDuel, DC Thomson, BlackRock, Tesco Bank, and Sainsbury’s Bank.

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However, the liquidation announcement made it clear, at several points, that a crucial stream of CodeClan’s income had shrunk. They depended on pulling in hiring fees when students were placed with companies, as well as revenues from corporate training programmes.

But there’s been a business contraction in both areas, due to Covid and continued austerity.

This year CodeClan announced tie-ups with New York coding equivalent Flatiron and the recruiting company Eden Scott. They also called for Scots businesses to sponsor places at the school. This looked more like CodeClan scaling up, rather than flailing to survive. But here we are.

The statement from Mark Logan, the Scottish Government’s “chief entrepreneur” and manager of a sister network named Codebase, guaranteed that current students would complete their course.

The National:

But Logan also explained a contradiction. How could a course regarded as a “strategic ecosystem asset” by his own Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review in 2020 – a crucial developer of Scots tech talent – be (in his own words) “allowed to fail”?

His answers are quite meagre and point to a much bigger challenge: Scotland’s capacity to re-equip its workforce for expanding new sectors.

“CodeClan was a private business that became structurally loss-making”, writes Logan on LinkedIn.

“Public money can only be injected into a private business according to strict legal constraints and rules. If independent analysis concludes that such an injection will not alter the long-term course of a business in the context of its forward plans, then it cannot be done.”

Your eyes may already be in full rotation, if the criteria are “viability” and “legality”, according to “independent analysis”.

READ MORE: CodeClan goes into liquidation with loss of nearly 60 jobs

For example, may we consider public investment in ferry making?

Logan goes on to say that “we are certainly going to find a way to re-establish a sustainable, strategic talent channel into the tech sector, enabling people to retrain as software engineers and related roles from other disciplines.”

My problem is that he then puts the impetus for that on “the active involvement of Scotland’s business and tech community”.

When it looks like a diminishing of their interest may be the key problem.

There are two big-picture trends that the CodeClan closure illuminates. The first is: who really should be primarily responsible for helping people to re-skill and shift their expertise, as job markets are in upheaval?

And the second is: how will the ability of AI to “do code” change the whole landscape of coding?

Throughout the CodeClan coverage, I couldn’t get a speech out of my head that the former Bank of England supremo, Mark Carney, made in Canada, April 2018.

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He had decided to face the spectre of what we called (at the time) the “fourth industrial revolution” – a degree of automation that would overturn existing careers.

With Carney’s usual smooth self-deprecation, he noted that “70% of what I did in my banking job 20 years ago is now done by machines”.

But what was bold about Carney was his belief in public, not private institutions, to help people through this. As he spoke in Dublin the same year: “The biggest issue may be how to institutionalise retraining in mid-career and to integrate it with the social welfare system... The time for a quaternary system of education, founded on the same principle of universality as primary, secondary and tertiary education, may eventually arrive.”

By “quaternary”, Carney means your fourth bout of education in your life. But by “universality” integrated with the “social welfare system”, I’m sure he doesn’t mean a crucial re-skilling institution falling over on its own rickety budget, while charging attendees £7000 of their precious life-savings.

To me, CodeClan seems like “quaternary” education par excellence. My creative friend saw the occupational writing on the wall, and was willing to act. Shouldn’t the public realm be supporting exactly this kind of behaviour?

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Carney’s presentation was pretty far-sighted in another respect.

He saw that the automation of mid-level and low-level “head” jobs would open up an opportunity for “heart” and “hand” jobs.

Ironically, my friend – a consummate and passionate musician, as well as a craftsman – was moving from “heart” and “hand”, to a “head-based” skill set.

But one story driving enterprises like CodeClan is that people with diverse life experiences – schoolteachers, social workers, parents, bureaucrats, artists – bring their hinterlands, and maybe their emotional intelligence, to the tech world.

We are always complaining that tech bros – pasty white, coding since five, spiral-eyed – dominate this crucial sector. We should support better the feeders that irrigate it with diverse people.

What about the current wave of AI, in its GPT mode? It’s able to receive a plain sentence, asking for a certain software function, and turn that into the raw and pure code which enables that function.

The general consensus is that this will inevitably reduce the amount of entry-level coders, and push the remainder into an overseer role – those who will know enough to know when something is off. And we clearly don’t know what the next stages of these AI will be capable of doing. Perhaps more integration of programs across organisations; maybe whole new operating systems.

That’s another jobs-quake – which may make the basic aspiration of CodeClan, in any case, redundant. And to back up Carney’s sense of the shift to hand and heart, I picked up another skills-based story this week.

The philanthropist Hamish Ogston has donated nearly £29 million to Scottish and UK heritage organisations. Ogston wants to fund 2700 new heritage conservation apprentices and trainees, who will be learning centuries-old techniques in carpentry, plastering, roofing and stonemasonry.

This includes flintknapping (chipping away to make flint tools for masonry).

It’s a beautiful story, illustrated with many happy and rubicund stonemasons, and aimed at bringing vitality to a leisure and heritage sector. But it also indicates some of the surprising outcomes of societies facing runaway automation.

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Liberated from dull routines both cognitive and bodily, what kind of activities might we come to value that we’d long forgotten? Could we be wise enough to societally organise the surplus from these productive machines, so that we have the time, space and facilities to pursue craft (and care) in our lives?

What other “clans”, maybe focussing on the shift to hand and heart, do we need to institute? I think of our resourceful friend, and I imagine him combing code, music and care in some unprecedented way – if only he could get a little more distance from financial urgency.

I thought the point of Scottish self-determination was to design and build institutions that help our citizens ride the storms of the future. Can’t we do better than liquidating enterprises judged to be core to our supposed “eco-systems”?

Yet again, the Scottish future has to be more than assuming that markets always work – until they don’t. Let’s plan, and fund, our required “clans” for the transition.