The Minister for Public Finance & Digital Economy Kate Forbes MSP was the keynote speaker at our recent "Developing Your Digital Workforce" event. In her speech she explained why digital skills are so important to the Scottish Government, and to the Scottish economy.
It may seem a bit odd that we are having a ‘Developing your Digital Workforce’ event in such times? You would think that as the economy has shifted to a more technical, serviced focus that the transition would be natural?
However, that is not the case. Recent publications highlight that although there are over 100,000 people employed within the digital technology sector in Scotland, we still need a further 13,000 new entrants every year just to stand still. Furthermore, female representation within the sector remains low at 23% which does not help things.
Our aspirations to tackle this skills gaps are set out in our refreshed Digital Strategy. It focuses on our vision for Scotland as a vibrant, inclusive, open and outward-looking digital nation.
But it is more than a vision. It has concrete measures we are taking to anchor digital in everything we do. We recognise that digital should always be part of something bigger; an enabler to delivering inclusive economic growth; reforming our public services; tackling inequalities and empowering our communities and children.
"Our digital sector contributes around £5.25 billion to the Scottish economy and this is forecast to be the fastest growing sector in Scotland by 2024."
It is a strategy for all of Scotland - not just the Scottish Government, and just as importantly, not just technology companies. Our goal is to ensure that ALL Scottish businesses are equipped to embrace the opportunities and fully benefit from the global digital economy.
Recent figures show that our digital sector contributes around £5.25 billion to the Scottish economy and this is forecast to be the fastest growing sector in Scotland by 2024.
Digital technologies present a huge opportunity for Scotland, and we should embrace this with open arms. But we should also recognise that access to digital talent is a Scotland-wide problem - it was a challenge before Brexit, and it will become even more acute afterwards.
As a Government, we have been working with partners to address the issue, and the following is a flavour of what we are doing to help attract and retain talent to the sector in Scotland.
- Encouraging our young people is essential and a priority.
- There are a number of long-term initiatives to encourage the teaching of STEM subjects in schools/colleges. Digital Xtra, for example, has made £400,000 available for extra-curricular activities like coding clubs.
- The next phase of our ‘Teaching Makes People’ campaign has a continued focus on harder-to-fill subjects such as STEM subjects.
- We have also introduced a STEM bursary scheme to encourage more career changers into STEM teaching. The scheme aims to provide 100 bursaries of £20,000 to ease the financial transition for career changers leaving paid employment to undertake a year of teacher training for the STEM subjects with the greatest demand for teachers.
- The new digital schools programme (in partnership with industry and education sector) will test innovative approaches to digital skills in secondary schools.
- We are also developing new pathways into digital careers within the workplace, via new Foundation Apprenticeships in software and hardware as well as Digital Graduate Apprenticeships.
- Our Digital Growth Fund, together with our recently launched Digital Development Loans of up to £50,000, will seek to help our SME base address this, offering a 0% interest fee.
- The Digital Boost programme is continuing to provide 1-2-1 advice and workshops for our SME base to assist in their digital journey.
- With our funding, the Digital Scotland Business Excellence Partnership tackles immediate skills shortages, and our International Talent Attraction Campaign aims to encourage skilled jobseekers to work in Scotland to address the short-term skills shortage.
"I urge you to speak to Skills Development Scotland or Business Gateway....I’ve seen the work they do at first hand and it does make a real difference."
All of this, coupled with our Global ‘Scotland Is Now’ campaign, are sending out the message that Scotland is a great place to live and work.
But the reality is everyone has a role to play in developing our digital workforce. Either as employers, influencers or parents. We cannot ignore the digital challenge our workforce currently faces.
This is not something that is coming, this is something that has arrived.
And I urge you to speak to Skills Development Scotland or Business Gateway to help you navigate your way through the ‘digital maze’. I’ve seen the work they do at first hand and it does make a real difference.