Digital Nation

Digital Skills Strategy for a Scottish Digital Nation

The mission of Digital Scotland is to help build a world leading Scottish digital nation, and of course technology skills and careers are central to that ambition.

As the Herald reports Kate Forbes has announced £45m in funding to “transform Scotland into one of Europe’s leading economies to start or grow a technology business.” However there are significant challenges standing in the way.

Key startup sectors like FinTech are facing a skills crunch challenge, experiencing a talent shortage that could inhibit the growth of this booming industry and therefore limit the extent to which this overall goal can be achieved.

As far back as 2018 Digital Skills Scotland reported that Scotland faces a skills shortage challenge that would hamper our ambitions to build a world leading digital economy, and Scotland’s Auditor General lambasted the government for a lack of leadership with regards to workforce skills planning. Skills Development Scotland and the Scottish Funding Council have not been able to agree how integrated approaches to skills planning should work. Together, they spend over £2bn each year on training and post-school education.

Particularly concerning is Scotland’s general education performance, their PISA results pointing to declining performance in key subjects like Maths and Science. Especially poignant is the collapse of Computer Science adoption, the skill that is absolutely central to our ambitions to build a world leading digital nation.

A Vision for Transformation

There are of course many different technologies that have great potential for Scottish learning. The Cloud makes powerful new teaching tools more easily available, Virtual Reality provides an immersive experience, and so on, but these are at the level of individual teaching. To define the wholesale transformation of education we first need to craft a vision of what a future state transformed system might look like – Entirely new ideas, new models for how Education is delivered.

We can look to other countries for inspiration.

As described in a previous blog Estonia offers an exemplar of a small nation who has mastered technology to greatly advance their country. Education is one headline example of this, where they have leveraged technology to achieve astounding levels of success on the same rankings, the first in Europe. Indeed they describe it as a platform for enabling an ‘Education Nation‘.

The Times analyzes what it takes to build Europe’s best school system.

“Despite relatively low spending on education Estonia is among the top countries in the world in all three areas on which 15-year-olds are assessed: reading, mathematics and science. Its schools are also the best at promoting fairness and Estonian pupils are among the happiest in the OECD.”

Of course technology alone can’t transform a policy system, especially one that has been concretely set in it’s ways for decades if not hundreds of years. James McEnaney notes this in his tweet, highlighting that as well as technology mastery Estonia also have an entirely different different approach to Education. It’s both this different culture and technology Scotland needs to adopt.

Writing for TES James also sets the scene for the types of changes needed, describing 4 Ways to Transform Scottish Education, most notably a reformation of the exam system:

“Our current approach, the one that grinds students through a needless annual exam cycle and ties so much of their future to performance in just a few hours of a single day, has failed far too many people for far too long. The richest pupils are more likely to leave school with five Highers than the poorest are to leave with one. Those from the most deprived backgrounds are also more likely to fail their courses than achieve an A grade.”

This of course is the backbone of the education system, how grades are assessed and rewarded, and it is here therefore where the biggest levers for change are possible.

Digital Economy Skills Action Plan

As they announce here Skills Development Scotland recently published their Digital Economy Skills Action Plan (DESAP). The report highlights the key skills challenges Scotland faces in realizing it’s ambition to become a world leading digital nation:

  • Only 3 in 10 businesses are fully equipped with cyber security skills.
  • Only 1 in 3 businesses engage in ecommerce.
  • Only 1 in 5 businesses feel fully equipped with digital technology skills.

An ambition of Digital Scotland: A Changing Nation is that every business and every individual in Scotland can embrace the economic opportunities presented by the digital economy. Achieving this target requires an inclusive skills and education system which is responsive to the ever-changing needs of the digital economy.

Since 2014 the maturity of Scotland’s digital economy has been measured against a baseline, and progress was subsequently tracked in 2017 and 2021.

This research shows that despite the pandemic being an accelerator of digitalisation, Scottish businesses predominantly are in the lower half of digital economy maturity and a lack of skills is a contributor.

Businesses across the maturity spectrum reported digital skills issues, which included a quarter of businesses identifying their workforce lacked the basic digital skills to use email, internet, and office packages effectively. Only around a third of business reported being fully equipped with cyber security skills which is a serious risk as businesses faced an average of 24 cyber security incidents last year.

Action Plan

The report defines a series of actions and objectives to address these challenges:

  1. Extend the reach of digital technology experiences for young people who may otherwise not participate in technology subjects at school.
  2. Inspire young people about careers in the Scottish digital economy by engaging employers in every primary and secondary school in Scotland.
  3. Strengthen and communicate the evidence base on the current and future demand for digital economy skills and jobs.
  4. Identify key digital economy skills competencies and aligning and developing micro-credentialed/short courses to address skills needs of employers.
  5. Maximise the uptake of work-based learning pathways to support the demand for professional digital skills.
  6. Support small businesses to identify and address the digital economy skills gaps in their workforce.
  7. Increase the number of small businesses who can harness the benefits of digital transition.


Editor of On a mission to build a world leading Scottish digital nation.

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