As chair of the Digital Economy Skills Group, I am privileged to work with a lot of talented people across industry and the public sector to provide support, and a guiding hand, for the work that Skills Development Scotland (SDS) does to close the technology skills gap in Scotland across all sectors.

The organisation’s financial and reporting year goes from April to March, so I thought the timing of this particular column gave me the perfect opportunity to highlight and commend the work of SDS, and all its partners, for delivering an amazing and impactful programme of work during a year like no other.

Despite a pandemic causing major disruption to the way we all live and work, SDS’ digital skills team delivered a mountain of great work during this difficult and disruptive year. The key projects below are by no means exhaustive, but they are indicative:

  • Since revamping the Digital World website 18 months ago, traffic and user sessions have increased by over 300% to more than 100,000 a year.
  • The cybersecurity section of the site was enhanced providing a one stop shop for everything cyber skills, including three new guiding animations: one about skills, one about careers and one about education pathways
  • The four year Discover Cyber Live programme, which essentially gamified cyber skills, concluded in March 2021. The original target was to reach 4,000 pupils and teachers. By March 2021 more than 130,000 people had engaged through real world events (when we could have live events) and online.
  • SDS launched a new report highlighting the untapped talent of neurodivergent people for the tech sector specifically. It was launched at ScotSoft. After being trailed by Cabinet Secretary Kate Forbes in her opening keynote it was one of the best attended sessions at the event, receiving widespread media coverage.
  • Funding was provided to five institutions across Scotland to create short courses on cybersecurity for neurodivergent people, and SDS worked with Dundee and Angus College to weave cybersecurity skills into non-technical vocations, in this case, social science students.
  • Phase 2 of the Digital Start Fund took place throughout 2020/21. This fund was created in partnership with Scottish Government to help those who are unemployed or on low incomes to upskill and gain employment in cybersecurity, software development and data management.
  • They created new online resources highlighting education and career pathways for softwaredata and artificial intelligence, similar to those published previously for cybersecurity.
  • SDS worked with Abertay University and Salute My Job to pilot an initiative to reskill veterans so they could apply their military expertise to the world of cybersecurity  
  • SDS also supported and had a presence at key events such as ScotSoft, Fintech Scotland, Digital Scotland, Cyber Scotland Week and of course Scottish Apprenticeship Week where a massive push was made to promote cybersecurity apprenticeships to the tech sector.

As you can see, despite the pandemic – or maybe even because of it – SDS continued to work with all its partners in a positive and effective way to enhance Scotland’s digital capability, and in turn its entire economy. 

Neurodiversity, upskilling and reskilling, and digital skills in schools are just three of the priorities that my colleagues on the DESG and I will be working on with SDS for this new financial year. Watch this space for more information as and when I can share it, but it’s already promising to be another busy and exciting year ahead.