The digital economy is growing at an unprecedented rate but more work is needed to increase the number of people with relevant skills so Scotland can capitalise on opportunities, according to research commissioned by the Digital Technologies Skills Group. The findings, which underline the importance of the digital economy and the rewarding careers it offers, were released at Action on Digital Skills in Scotland: Inspiring Initiatives in Edinburgh today, ahead of a full report next month.
The research highlights that Scotland’s digital technology businesses directly employ 60,100 people, but that 91,600 people are now employed in digital technologies roles across all sectors. With more than half of these digital technologies professionals employed in non-technology sectors such as financial services, this demonstrates the important role technology plays across all parts of the Scottish economy. The number of estimated annual job opportunities has risen to 12,800 – up 16 per cent from the last forecast. The average full-time salary in the digital technologies sector has increased to £37,400 from £28,000 in 2010, showing stronger growth than median full-time salaries in Scotland over the same period (+12 per cent).
More than 100 representatives from industry, public sector and education attended the conference, hosted by Skills Development Scotland, to explore the demand for technology skills and learn about the inspirational digital skills initiatives already underway in Scotland. Exemplar initiatives include work-based learning opportunities, the Digital Xtra Fund for extracurricular computing activities, engagement with schools through Developing the Young Workforce, e-Placement Scotland, digital skills academy CodeClan, and the Digital World careers campaign.
Minister for Employability and Training Jamie Hepburn, who delivered the Ministerial address, said: “Digital Skills are not only essential to our inclusive growth – they are vital to economic development, internationalisation and innovation. We recognise that even with over 90,000 people working in digital technology roles across Scotland, businesses are still struggling to recruit staff with the digital skills that can help them to grow. The Scottish Government is committed to reducing the digital skills gap across all sectors in Scotland and the work of the digital skills partnership is a great example of how we can achieve this.”
Researchers looked not just at digital technologies firms, but also at the technology skills needs of non-tech firms in sectors such as financial services, creative industries and the public sector. Respondents were generally positive about market conditions and there is likely to be strong demand for skills over the next year with two thirds of employers expecting to increase their staff. Employers said they want technical skills and transferable skills that allow people to be trained on the job. Programming and cyber security skills are highly sought after, as are data analytics and computational skills. The rapid pace of change in the digital world and its impact on technology and non-technology staff means that up-skilling and re-skilling the existing workforce is also a priority, the researchers said.
Polly Purvis, chief executive of digital technologies trade body ScotlandIS and a member of the Digital Technologies Skills Group, announced the findings of the research: “This is a significant moment for the digital technologies industry. It is important that we harness current opportunities so that the sector can continue to contribute to Scotland’s economic prosperity. We must respond collectively to the skills challenge to ensure we have the right people with the right skills to support this growth. A number of brilliant initiatives are already underway across Scotland and they show we can achieve more when we work together as an industry.”
There are many pathways into jobs in the digital technologies sector including the 4,000 graduates which come through university computer science courses each year, the 9,300 annual full and part time college enrolments in ICT and computing, and the 950 annual digital technology modern apprentice starts. These traditional entry routes are also complemented by alternatives such as the recent launch of two graduate level apprenticeship pathways.
Research found there is also a “hidden talent pipeline”; for example, 31% of graduates entering the digital technologies sector come from non-computing science backgrounds such as creative arts and design, business, and physical sciences, illustrating the importance of transferable skills and a willingness of employers to recruit from wider backgrounds and disciplines. Find out more about careers in the digital technologies sector.