Scotland finds itself at an economic crossroads due to COVID-19. The lockdowns and restrictions imposed to suppress the pandemic over the course of the past 14 months have badly affected key sectors of the economy.

However, adversity does also bring opportunity, and as the nation looks to recover, it is now more important than ever to build for a digital future. A clear route-map for change is needed, especially when it comes to developing a digital economy built on skilled work.

A fundamental part of this route-map is developing the right technological ecosystem so Scotland has the digital infrastructure to emerge stronger and more competitive, not just nationally but globally.

To embrace this digital future, Scotland must focus on digital skills and learning, connected communities and transforming services for all citizens. These are the threads of a new digital fabric that can change the way our communities live, our local authorities interact with citizens, our schools teach children, and the way our businesses across every sector operate.

Above all, such change requires a talented digital workforce capable of delivering it. CGI has several programmes in place which aim to cultivate and build this workforce here in Scotland.

Firstly, we have created a unique digital solution to transform learning and teaching in schools called Empowered Learning. It offers every student the same access to the same great digital tools for learning, and provides equality of attainment in education. Empowered Learning allows educators, learners and parents to take advantage of digital technology opportunities.

Currently, CGI is delivering this digital solution across three council areas to around 100,000 pupils and 10,000 teachers. In Glasgow, this programme – known as Connected Learning – is one of the largest single city implementations in Europe, and fits with CGI’s core commitment to communities, partnerships and STEM, providing young people with a passion for technology and hunger to learn.

In the Scottish Borders, known as Inspire Learning, all pupils from P4 to S6 in every Borders school has access to their own device, providing an ideal blended learning environment during the COVID-19 pandemic with more than 90% engagement.

Meanwhile, in Edinburgh, a deal was signed earlier this year that will see the deployment of 39,000 iPads to 35,000 pupils and 4,000 teachers in more than 120 schools. Known as Edinburgh Learns for Life, the programme will see the phased rollout of digital devices to every school pupil from P6 to S6 beginning in September, with additional iPads issued to P1 to P5 year groups on an agreed ratio.

The roll-out will be completed by the end of 2022, and will include 27,000 new iPads for pupils and staff, refreshed iPads for up to 12,000 pupils and staff, as well as enhancing the existing wireless connectivity in schools by providing additional wireless access points, along with a comprehensive programme of professional learning for teachers.

Another driver of digital excellence is apprenticeships. CGI has a Graduate Apprenticeships Programme in partnership with Glasgow Caledonian University and Edinburgh Napier University.

Currently, there are 13 graduate apprentices in Scotland studying towards a BSC Honours – in Software Development at Glasgow Caledonian and IT Management for Business at Napier – while also developing their career working on real-life projects at CGI, with a paid starting salary of £19,000. These apprentices are not only the key to the future of our business, but also the tech sector in Scotland.

With a skilled workforce in place, cities and authorities can then drive forward real digital change for their communities, and fulfil ‘smart city’ ambitions. From schools to social care, health and wellbeing, finance, proactive maintenance, recycling, route optimisation, and smart vehicles, life will be different, better, and technologically-driven, with citizens at its heart.

What is more, this new technology will mean a virtual world that delivers benefits back to authorities in the north-east, and create the right environment for a new, digital economic recovery.