In 2019, digital technology is as commonplace in society as lighting, heating or any of our other utilities. We access more online services than ever before, we have more access to information than at any point in history and more of our economy and jobs market are dependent on digital skills. These trends look set to continue long into the future. 

However, despite there being around 100,000 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. In fact, recent research has shown that we need around 13,000 new people entering digital roles each year for Scotland to fully realise its digital ambitions. The Scottish Government is working hard to make this happen.

Through our Public/Private partnership Digital Skills Group, for example, we have invested £12.5m into digital skills over the past six years. From this, we have helped fund and launch CodeClan, creating the first industry-led digital skills academy in Scotland and over 700 graduates have now progressed from the programme into the jobs market.

But as well as focusing on those at the later stages of the education pipeline, we also need to make sure we are getting young people interested in tech and in related career options as early as possible. Software development, web design, marketing and cyber security – these are just a few of the specialisms being looked for by businesses across Scotland. 

We know that our children and young people love technology. We need to capture this interest and build on it from the early years and throughout their education. The Digital World marketing campaign, created and funded by our Digital Skills Partnership, is a great example of this.

It is also absolutely vital that our education system is taking full advantage of the opportunities offered by digital technology – both in terms of enhancing and supporting the learning experience, and in ensuring that our young people have the digital skills that they need in our modern society, laying the foundations for a pipeline of talent into digital industries in Scotland.

Through our Digital Learning and Teaching Strategy for Scotland, published in 2016, we are aiming to create the conditions to enrich learning and teaching across all parts of the curriculum in schools through the use of digital technology. 

Our five-year STEM Strategy, published in 2017, aims to engage and include people from all walks of life to develop STEM knowledge and skills to benefit both the economy and society. This includes skills in digital, cyber and computing. 

Data and digital skills are an increasingly prominent feature of education in the early years, primary and secondary schools. All of this is underpinned by our focus in the Scottish curriculum on numeracy and mathematics. We have also updated the national school curriculum guidance to introduce a clear expectation that young people learn the fundamentals of computing science, cyber security and digital skills from their earliest years of education through to secondary school.

We are providing support in this area through a dedicated team of Digital Officers in Education Scotland and through professional learning opportunities for teachers that Education Scotland is developing in partnership with the British Computer Society and tech firms including BT. The Digital Schools Award, supported by HP, Intel and Microsoft as well as public sector partners, celebrates the achievements of schools and nurseries in embedding digital technology and digital skills development within learning and teaching. Fifty-one-per-cent of schools in Scotland have signed up to the award.

The Scottish Government is taking a range of actions to support the recruitment of computing science teachers. This includes bursaries of £20,000 for career changers to train to become STEM teachers in subjects where there are shortages, including computing. We are also introducing a range of alternative routes into teaching to make it more practical and flexible for a wider range of people to become teachers.

We promote STEM learning and training at all levels both in education and in the workplace. The latest data from 2017-18 show that almost 15,000 school leavers left with at least one pass in a STEM subject at SCQF level 6 (Higher) or above. A further 14,000 students emerged from our colleges having completed relevant STEM courses and 7,300 university students graduated with the relevant STEM qualifications for work in digital fields. In the same year, there were around 2,000 starts in digital related apprenticeship frameworks. 

Taken as a whole, these actions and expectations will help to ensure that all learners in Scotland experience an education enriched by digital technology and one that equips them with the skills needed for our constantly changing society and workplaces, irrespective of the career path they choose.