A changing nation: how Scotland will thrive in a digital world

This strategy sets out the measures which will ensure that Scotland will fulfil its potential in a constantly evolving digital world.

Digital Education and Skills

Research shows that basic digital skills are needed for almost every job, from farming (using software to maintain livestock records) through to car mechanics (using applications to diagnose vehicle defects).[19] However, the level of skills and understanding required is increasing fast. As the Logan Review says, “many sectors of our traditional economy, such as Law and Financial Services, are increasingly being disrupted by Internet Economy business models and techniques. It would be wise to equip our future professionals with a basic grounding in the discipline.”[20] Digital skills are needed at every level of an organisation – and it is vital leaders show both digital thinking and digital leadership for organisations to thrive in a digital world.

Ensuring we have a strong, digitally skilled workforce will be a key driver to inclusive economic growth, and it will support the digital technologies sector – a high-growth sector that is key to economic recovery. A recent CBI Scotland study indicates that the adoption of new technologies – and the skills to use them – could add £25 billion to the Scottish economy over the next decade,[21] but this will only be realised if we raise the digital competency of everyone in Scotland.

Image of mechanics using a tablet

Before the pandemic, the shortage of skills required to meet the demand for digital roles was restricting growth both within the digital sector and across the wider economy. Research indicates that in Scotland 75% of all advertisements for jobs classified as ‘low-skilled’ now require baseline digital skills such as the ability to use spreadsheets and word processing applications.[22] But only 77% of people in Scotland aged over fifteen can complete all seven tech skills considered to be “foundation” level, compared to the UK average of 84%.

Only when people have achieved proficiency in all seven foundation levels can they begin to develop skills considered to be essential for employment, and just 39% of the Scottish workforce is able to complete the essential employment skills[23],[24] A different study suggests that by comparison, in the Netherlands, 83% of the population has above basic levels of communication skills, and 81% has above basic problem-solving skills broadly comparable to these essential skills.[25]

We established the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery (AGER) in April 2020, with the remit of providing expert advice on Scotland’s economic recovery once the immediate emergency, created by the pandemic, has subsided. Its report [26] highlighted that whilst Scotland has a highly qualified labour force, the nature of the Scottish labour market (insecure work, underemployment, in-work poverty, etc.) raised concerns about whether these skills were being fully utilised. It also identified sectoral skills gaps relating to digital technology as being most prevalent in agriculture, hospitality and retail.

We have had success in addressing the future skills pipeline, with increases in young people studying computing science at Level 7, and at university, as well as in the number of modern apprenticeships.[27],[28] We have also made interventions at the advanced digital skills level and supported people to upskill and reskill into digital roles, including targeting those furthest away from the job market. For example, the launch of the Digital Start Fund in 2019 – aimed at those on low or no incomes and who have not recently benefited from further or higher education – gives the opportunity to develop new digital skills and targets the skills gap in the digital technologies sector. Another example of progress is the development of a robust cyber security skills pipeline, embedding cyber security learning and skills development opportunities across our education and lifelong learning system.

However, we need to do much more. In Scotland between 2016 and 2018 there was a 15% decrease in young people studying computing science at Levels 3-5 (National).[29] The 2018 PISA report showed that Scottish performance in science was similar to the OECD average, and was higher than countries including Iceland and Italy, but was lower than England, the UK as a whole, and countries including Finland, Estonia, Germany and the United States.[30] Just 20% of our school pupils studying computing science Level 5 (National) are girls, and only 16% of students pursuing computing degrees at university are women.[31] Current female participation in the tech sector sits at 23%. Research that suggests firms with higher levels of gender diversity are 15% more likely to outperform rivals.[32] In order to tackle gender bias and improve gendered participation in school subject choice, Education Scotland has in place a dedicated team of education professionals who are delivering the Improving Gender Balance in Education programme. The aim is to help change perceptions about STEM and challenge assumptions made about who does what job.

Where we want to be

Our STEM Strategy highlights the importance of providing opportunities for young people to develop their digital skills. It is our ambition that we routinely teach digital skills at the earliest possible stage of the curriculum. We must also widen the definition of digital literacy to include a focus on both cognitive and technical skills, so our people are able to use technology collaboratively to find and evaluate information and to communicate ideas creatively.

The Logan Review identifies Education and Talent as being one of three fundamental supporting areas upon which the performance of Scotland’s tech ecosystem depends. Interventions are proposed across the education system and we are working closely with educators, industry, academia, and skills providers to implement its education and skills related recommendations.

We will do more to help our children and young people to raise awareness of digital technologies and realise the value of digital skills. This includes engaging with those who influence career decisions and equipping our teachers with a formal background in computing science, or a related discipline, so teaching is delivered with a balance of knowledge and enthusiasm that happens when a subject is taught by a subject matter specialist. We want to do this both by supporting the professional development and enthusiasm and confidence of those teachers who cover computing and providing opportunities to update and up-skill those who are already specialists. Industry partnerships can assist on both counts.

We also want to build upon the already excellent reputation of our universities and their success producing spin-off and spin-out tech companies.[33] In doing this we can ensure that our tech graduates leave with an entrepreneurial mind-set, and can compete with graduates from the likes of Stanford University that have made Silicon Valley such a success.

Digital skills development is critical across all sectors of the economy. We want to encourage people in work – in the private, public and voluntary sectors – to update their skills as new technology changes the way we work.  In doing this we can help them to take full advantage of the possibilities arising from automation, rather than fearing it, and ensure that they experience greater job satisfaction. Digital skills will be at the heart of our business support programmes and within the public sector, we will deliver a central, coordinated, cost-effective and coherent programme of learning and coaching through the Scottish Digital Academy.

We want to strengthen our approach to learning by working with a wider range of organisations to develop and deliver digital skills training for people who do not respond to traditional educational backgrounds and settings. We are also highlighting the attractiveness of Scotland as a place to live and work internationally, and throughout the UK, through, for example, the “Moving to Scotland” campaign.[34] The Logan Review also places a key focus on attracting international tech talent to Scotland as a means of widening the talent funnel of the Scottish tech ecosystem, and as part of implementation we are considering optimal ways of both attracting and retaining tech talent in Scotland.

How we are going to get there:

  • An education system that builds digital skills: We will work to implement the Logan Review’s education related recommendations focussed on improvements to teaching and learning in Computing Science and related disciplines throughout our education system.Leadership Icon
  • Increase the digital skills talent pool: We need to ensure we have a skilled workforce available to meet the needs of a growing digital economy. In line with our aims in the Inward Investment plan, we aim to increase the number of people trained in Scotland in advanced digital skills to 10,000 every year. We will continue to work closely with the Digital Technologies Skills Group, Scotland’s technology and public sector partnership, to encourage more people to take advantage of the digital skills training opportunities that we have in Scotland. We will continue to support entry into digital roles through initiatives such as the Digital Start Fund offering digital training to those who are unemployed or on a low income. We are also supporting business to upskill, working with the Data Lab to plan a series of training courses in data literacy for workers in a variety of professions.  Skilled Workforce Icon
  • Support upskilling and reskilling: We will look to further support, signpost and increase upskilling and reskilling opportunities for people whose employment was impacted by coronavirus and other changes in the job market and need support to transition to new careers in our high growth digital tech sector, including leveraging the National Transition Training Fund wherever possible. We will also work with the Scottish Tech Army, to explore the potential for volunteering to provide a route back into high quality digital jobs.  Skilled Workforce Icon 
  • Increase diversity in the digital skills pool: We will work to improve the gender balance and diversity in digital tech subjects at school, further and higher education, and in apprenticeships. We will continue to work with industry to increase the diversity of our digitally skilled workforce, including women, disabled people, those from minority ethnic backgrounds, and neurodivergent people, to tackle the barriers that are in place and increase the pathways that exist into the workplace.Inclusive Icon
  • A single, shared digital academy: We will build upon the work of the Scottish Digital Academy to establish it as the skills provider of choice for the Scottish public sector. It will offer new programmes in areas such as cyber security, cloud computing and service design, supported by innovative online learning capabilities. This will accelerate the delivery of digital skills that we need both now and in the future; build stronger professional communities to share best practice; and develop leadership capabilities. Skilled Workforce Icon
  • Pool digital and data expertise: High quality digital and data skills have been in short supply in the public sector for some time. Alongside our plans to expand our training capability, we will therefore establish a new, pooled resource of digital and data experts that public sector organisations can call upon to help them transform the way they work. We will also work with partners across the public sector to explore how we can radically overhaul our approach to digital talent recruitment in the Scottish Government and the wider public sector in Scotland. We will work with the Civil Service Commission and other key bodies to challenge thinking in recognition that the current recruitment process is based on siloed ways of working, historical organisational arrangements, and outdated attraction and selection methods. Collaborative Icon
  • Creating a Data Science Competency Centre to accelerate the adoption of new tools and practices across government and the public sector, leveraging our investments in analytical platforms. The competency centre will carry out demonstrator projects, assist in the adoption of new technologies and support analysts in the adoption of automation to unleash the talent in our digital, data and analytical professions. Skilled Workforce Icon

Alignment to our National Performance Framework


We will;

  1. ensure digital knowledge and skills has a place in education;
  2. build a skilled digital workforce;
  3. support upskilling and reskilling opportunities;
  4. increase diversity in the digital skills pool;
  5. establish the Scottish Digital Academy as the skills provider of choice;
  6. establish a resource of digital and data experts that the public sector can call upon;
  7. create a Data Science Competency Centre.
NPF Alignment
NPF Business Icon

Fair Work & Business - We have thriving and innovative businesses, with quality jobs and fair work for everyone.

NPF Education Icon

Education - We are well-educated, skilled and able to contribute to society.

NPF Economy Icon

Economy - We have a globally competitive, entrepreneurial, inclusive and sustainable economy.

NPF Poverty Icon Poverty - We tackle poverty by sharing opportunities, wealth and power more equally.



19 https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/news/ict-work-digital-skills-workplace

20 https://www.gov.scot/publications/scottish-technology-ecosystem-review/

21 https://www.cbi.org.uk/our-campaigns/boost-scottish-productivity/

22 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/807830/No_Longer_Optional_Employer_Demand_for_Digital_Skills.pdf

23 https://www.lloydsbank.com/banking-with-us/whats-happening/consumer-digital-index.html

24 https://www.lloydsbank.com/assets/media/pdfs/banking_with_us/whats-happening/lb-consumer-digital-index-2020-report.pdf

25 https://www.cbs.nl/en-gb/news/2020/07/the-netherlands-ranks-among-the-eu-top-in-digital-skills

26 https://www.gov.scot/publications/towards-robust-resilient-wellbeing-economy-scotland-report-advisory-group-economic-recovery/

27 https://www.skillsdevelopmentscotland.co.uk/media/46258/scotlands-digital-technologies-summary-report.pdf

28 https://www.skillsdevelopmentscotland.co.uk/media/46258/scotlands-digital-technologies-summary-report.pdf

29 https://www.skillsdevelopmentscotland.co.uk/media/46258/scotlands-digital-technologies-summary-report.pdf

30 https://www.gov.scot/publications/programme-international-student-assessment-pisa-2018-highlights-scotlands-results/

31 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2018: highlights from Scotland's results - gov.scot (www.gov.scot)

32 Pursuing productivity, why regional productivity growth matters for Scotland's future, June 2017: https://www.cbi.org.uk/media/1357/pursuing-prosperity-2017.pdf

33 https://www.scotsman.com/business/scotland-gets-top-marks-producing-university-spin-outs-3107212

34 https://www.scotland.org/live-in-scotland/moving-to-scotland


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