By Dr Liz Cameron CBE, Chief Executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce

Getting Scotland’s relationship right with digital technology and learning is vitally important to securing economic growth and keeping Scotland connected and competitive in an increasingly digital world.

The Covid-19 pandemic rapidly accelerated businesses and individuals’ reliance on digital technology and connectivity, playing an essential role in keeping the economy afloat, allowing for businesses to operate remotely, young people to access online learning, and keeping people connected with their loved ones.

However, what the pandemic also exposed was the need to urgently address the digital inequality that exists in Scotland.

Far too many businesses and communities still lack the ability to access gigabit-capable full fibre broadband and access to 5G mobile coverage which is holding back growth and hamstringing Scotland’s productivity.

The Scottish Government’s refreshed digital strategy that was published last year recognises the significant challenges and the immense opportunities for Scotland in the creation of a truly ‘Digital Nation’, and businesses want to work with government to make this vision a reality.

Ministers in Holyrood and Westminster should work with business to improve the pace of change by investing in the technologies that underpin digital infrastructure such as Artificial Intelligence, Automation and the Internet of Things whilst adopting and embedding a consistent Digital Learning approach across Scotland and the UK’s education sectors.

Scotland has the potential to further its reputation as a global leader in digital and build on the success of Edinburgh as the Data Capital of Europe and Dundee’s global leadership in gaming.

The North East of Scotland already has over 200 existing digital companies in the region with an aim to grow 10 to 20 digital tech companies based in the region to a turnover of £20 million per annum operating on an international basis.

And Glasgow is set to benefit from the UK Government’s ‘Levelling Up’ agenda through additional financial support for a new Silicon Valley-style ‘Innovation Accelerator’ which will help to create quality new jobs and boost both the regional and Scottish economy. Businesses including JP Morgan and Barclays are also making major investments in the city through the establishment of a centre for software development and a new state of the art campus respectively, supporting a significant number of tech jobs and demonstrating inward investment that wouldn’t happen if the skills weren’t available here.

There are exhilarating examples the length and breadth of Scotland that demonstrate the potential of digital technology and skills in unlocking economic growth and firmly establishing Scotland as a global leader in emerging sectors such as financial, life sciences and energy technology amongst many others.

Digital isn’t just important to these new sectors though and having a strong on-line presence and brand for Scotland’s tourism, food and drink, textile and renewables sectors is also increasingly important to showcase the best of Scotland on the global stage.

The Scottish Government’s recently launched National Strategy for Economic Transformation also highlights that a focus on digital technology is an essential foundation for economic success.

Whilst businesses are already adapting and embracing digital technology many of the issues facing Scotland’s technology ecosystem had already been identified in the Scottish Government commissioned review by Mark Logan who set out several recommendations on how Scotland could develop a world-class tech sector.

Putting aside the requirement for investment in infrastructure and connectivity, a significant focus was placed on ensuring Scotland has the correct foundational talent pipeline running through every level of the education sector to ensure businesses have access to the knowledge and skills they need, whilst also being able to attract new talent into Scotland.

Although some progress has been made, it is increasingly important that government works collaboratively and in partnership with business to help increase the capacity of private sector led initiatives which focus on providing that necessary skilled talent pipeline.

CodeClan, Scotland’s first industry-led digital skills academy have been playing a critical role in bridging the national digital skills gap and have successfully trained a new generation of digital professionals in Scotland, kick starting thousands of new careers in tech.

Similarly, global firms including CGI, BT, Microsoft, Cisco and others have been offering digital skills training for managers, business owners and leaders through the provision of Digital Boot Camps to help embed digital learning across Scotland’s economy.

To support Scotland’s digital skills development and assist economic recovery, the Scottish Government should acknowledge the success of CodeClan and CGI in delivering digital upskilling and develop a dedicated single-entry point for access to virtual training and development qualifications available for all workers which could provide opportunities to upskill, retrain and adapt to technological advancements in the workplace.

Business, government and individuals all understand that the future is digital.

Ensuring that Scotland has one of the most advanced digital infrastructures in the world and the skilled workforce required to capitalise on these opportunities is critical.

It’s a binary choice and Scotland must change to thrive in the digital world.