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‘Lack of Interest’ in Digital Skills Holding Scottish Firms Back

Ross Kelly

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digital skills

Improvements to cybersecurity are helping Scottish businesses protect themselves from cybercriminals – but digital skills are still a key concern.

Although businesses across Scotland have bolstered their cybersecurity protection in 2019, many still lack interest in essential digital skills, a new report suggests.

According to the Bank of Scotland’s Business Digital Index (BDI), Scottish firms have made significant headway in improving cybersecurity practices, but much work still remains.

The annual report, which saw 1,500 small businesses across the UK (125 of which were Scotland-based), combines survey data with businesses’ transactional data to understand their digital behaviours.

Scotland’s security index, which outlines whether companies are protecting themselves against cybercriminals and fraudsters, increased by 18 points on last year to 50. An index rating of zero highlights a lack of online cybersecurity capabilities, while 100 shows highly robust measures are in place.

Local firms also displayed a higher-than-average interest in cybersecurity, the report said. More than three-quarters (81%) of Scottish businesses confirmed they have recently invested in cybersecurity skills, or plan to in the future. This is compared to a national level of around 78%, the BDI noted.

Having access to “relevant expertise” is, in part, helping Scottish businesses boost their cyber defences and implement stringent practices.

Despite improvements to cyber awareness among Scottish firms, the report warned that a lack of Essential Digital Skills “could be hampering opportunities to boost sales or productivity”.

The Essential Digital Skills Framework outlines the skills required to benefit from, participate in and contribute to the digital economy of today and the future.

The Index suggested that small businesses with strong digital skills earn, on average, £260,000 more. Less than half of Scottish businesses, around 41%, lack the full range of essential digital skills compared to a national average of 44%.

However, businesses across Scotland are exhibiting a desire to improve and build their digital strategy and leadership skills, the report conceded. More than half have undertaken initiatives to improve in this regard, or are planning to do so in the future.

In regard to building social media and marketing skills, Scottish businesses are outperforming their UK counterparts, while nearly half (41%) of firms are improving or building skills in customer data analytics.

Philip Grant, chair of Lloyds Banking Group’s Scottish Executive Committee, warned that businesses which neglect to grow wider digital skills could miss out on opportunities in years to come.

“Neglecting cybersecurity is a huge risk to businesses, so it’s very encouraging to see firms across Scotland taking the necessary actions to protect themselves,” he said.

“Scotland boasts an ideal environment for success and is home to some of the UK’s most innovative startups. But by not actively growing wider digital skills, businesses could be missing out on opportunities,” Grant added.

A host of major financial institutions already have technology bases in Scotland, including Lloyds Banking Group. The bank’s Digital Tech Hub, which is part of a £3 billion investment programme, aims to boost Scotland’s technology sector with 500 new software engineering roles and is part of a wider drive to promote tech careers in financial services.

Speaking to DIGIT, ScotlandIS‘ chief operating officer Karen Meechan said that while digital skills shortages are a cause for concern among Scottish businesses, the issue isn’t entirely down to a lack of desire. Many businesses simply may be unaware of the support networks available to them.

“The shortage of digital skills is a challenge to businesses across Scotland. We understand there isn’t a lack of desire to upskill employees and source digital talent, but rather there’s an important job to do in increasing the awareness of accessible support,” she said.

“Whilst there is still work to do, we remain ambitious and optimistic about growing the digital workforce throughout Scotland reaping the rewards of a digital economy. ScotlandIS is assisting Scottish businesses to upskill their current employees and hire new, skilled digital talent,” Meechan added.

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Claire Gillespie, sector manager for Digital Technologies at Skills Development Scotland (SDS), said: “It’s encouraging that this research shows the appetite for cyber security skills amongst Scottish businesses is increasing substantially, but it also highlights that there is still a great deal of work to do.

“That’s why SDS launched its Cyber Skills Programme in 2017 encouraging school pupils to choose fighting cyber crime as a career choice.

“In the first two years, that programme has smashed its targets, with more than 40,000 school pupils participating, thanks in part to the role employers are playing in bringing the industry to life.

“We are also working with employers to broaden the range of pathways available for people looking to launch a career in this growth sector, from the increasing use of Foundation, Modern and Graduate Apprenticeships to the Digital Start Fund offering people the chance to upskill and reskill.”

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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