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Digital Economy Business Survey 2021: findings

Summary of findings from the Digital Economy Business Survey (DEBS) 2021. This publication includes the high level DEBS report, accompanying data tables and the Digital Economy Maturity Index 2021.

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Skills

The refreshed Digital Strategy identifies that Digital skills are fundamental to the life chances of our people and the economic success of our country. Digital skills sit alongside literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing as the essential platforms for lifelong learning. These skills are required to study almost every subject at school, in further and higher education and training, and in a growing number of roles in the workplace.

For Scottish businesses to be able to fully exploit the opportunities offered by digital technologies to drive growth, improve productivity and stimulate innovation it is essential that the current and future workforce have the skills and confidence to do so.

This section looks at the extent to which the digital skills required by businesses are readily available in the workforce.

Figure 12: How equipped staff as a whole are in terms of skills to meet the business’ digital technology needs (%)
A bar chart is shown reporting how equipped businesses’ feel their staff are in terms of skills to meet the business’ digital technology needs by waves of the survey (2021, 2017 and 2014). 21% felt fully equipped compared to 26% in 2017 and 37% in 2014. 56% felt well equipped but with some gaps compared to 48% in 2017 and 41% in 2014. 15% felt not very well equipped with considerable skills gaps compared to 19% in 2017 and 16% in 2014. 6% stated that it was no applicable to business compared to 5% in both 2017 and 2014, and 1% did not know (unchanged from 2017 and 2014).

Base: All businesses (2014 = 4,002; 2017 = 3,258; 2021 = 3,346)

Digital skills of the workforce (see Figure 12)

  • 21 per cent of all businesses stated that their existing staff were fully equipped in terms of skills to meet the business’ digital technology needs, a decrease from 26 per cent in 2017 and 37 per cent of businesses surveyed in 2014.
  • More than half (56 per cent) stated that they were well equipped but with some skills gaps (48 per cent in 2017).
  • 15 per cent stated that they had considerable skills gaps, a fall from 19 per cent in 2017.

Type and impact of digital skills gaps

  • A quarter (26 per cent) of businesses reported that they needed to improve basic technology skills such as email, internet navigation, Microsoft Office and Excel.
  • Some businesses with digital skills gaps were lacking technical skills, including: cyber security skills (11 per cent), software skills (10 per cent), web development skills (5 per cent) and coding skills (4 per cent).
  • Businesses also reported that they need to improve business and commercial skills, including: digital marketing (6 per cent), general business and commercial skills (5 per cent), and digital leadership and management skills (2 per cent).
  • 43 per cent either lacked a skill that was not listed or did not know which type of skills they were missing. Compared to 2017 (56 per cent), businesses were slightly more certain in 2021 about the specific digital skills gaps that they faced.
  • When asked what areas have been affected by their employees’ digital skills gaps, the most cited answer was that it prevented the business from fully exploiting business efficiencies (12 per cent). 8 per cent also stated that digital skills gaps were impacting on the business’ ability to adopt the latest methods and technologies.
  • 5 per cent of businesses stated that their staff’s digital skills gaps impacted the business’s ability to sell products/ services over the internet.
Figure 13: Whether the business is taking any action to develop its current employees’ digital technology skills, for example by providing training (%)
A bar chart is shown reporting how businesses are taking action to develop its current employees digital technology skills by waves of the survey (2021, 2017 and 2014). 46% reported that they are not taking any action and not planning to in the future compared to 45% in 2017 and 54% in 2014. 29% were taking action compared to 34% in 2017 and 26% in 2014. 22% were not taking action but were planning to in the future compared to 19% in 2017 and 18% in 2014. 3% did not know (2% in 2017 and 1% in 2014).

Base: All businesses (2014 = 4,002; 2017 = 3,258; 2021 = 3,346)

Training and recruitment (see Figure 13)

  • 29 per cent of businesses stated that they are doing something to develop their current employees’ digital technology skills, compared to 34 per cent in 2017 and 26 per cent in 2014. 22 per cent stated that they are planning to do this in the future.
  • 46 per cent stated that they were not currently taking action to develop their employees’ digital skills and had no plans to do so in the future, broadly in line with 2017 (45 per cent) but lower than 2014 (54 per cent).
Figure 14: Reason why business is not taking any action to develop current employees’ (%)
A bar chart is shown listing the reasons businesses are not taking action to develop current employees’ digital skills. 65% stated that it is not applicable for business needs, 8% do not have resource/ time, 7% stated that staff are full trained/ have the skills required, 5% too expensive, 3% other, 2% we outsource/ consultants, 2% it is done in house/ on the job, 2% I do it all myself/ there is one dedicated person, 2% Covid-19/ pandemic/ lockdown, 2% business is too small/ not many employees, 2% business is closing/ winding down, 2% age of employees/ we are retiring soon, 2% unsure of what training is required, 2% not a priority, 2% employees unwilling, 2% don’t know where to source training, and 3% do not know.

Base: Businesses not planning to develop skills (min = 1,449)

Multiple responses allowed

  • When asked why businesses are not planning to develop their employees’ digital skills, the most common reason was that it was not applicable for business needs (65 per cent). Other reasons included: do not have resource/time (8 per cent), staff are fully trained/ have the skills required (7 per cent) and it is too expensive (5 per cent) (see Figure 14).
  • 17 per cent of respondents stated that they had not faced any problems in recruiting or retaining digital technology specialists in the past 12 months, while 3 per cent had found some difficulty in finding or keeping candidates with the right skills or the right experience. 75 per cent had not recruited.
  • Of those organisations facing recruitment difficulties, 17 per cent stated that they would look to overcome their skills shortage by offering training as part of recruitment such as utilising graduates, 13 per cent planned to outsource recruitment, and 10 per cent were looking to recruit straight from school/ university/ college. 1 in 10 (10 per cent) businesses were planning to re-train current staff.

Contact

Email: Sean.Murchie@gov.scot

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