The importance of Scotland’s technology sector to the nation’s economy has been underlined by research published by Skills Development Scotland (SDS).
Titled “Scotland’s Digital Technologies 2019”, the report confirms that the tech industry is one of the fastest-growing in the country, contributing £4.9 billion to the Scottish economy and supporting nearly 100,000 jobs.
The report also forecasts that the technology sector will be the second-fastest-growing in Scotland over the next decade, surpassed only by childcare services. Across this period, the sector is predicted to grow one and a half times faster than the economy overall.
Research by SDS suggests that the number of people required to support the tech sector has “significantly increased”, with more than 13,000 jobs available each year across the country – this equates to a rise of more than 200 per year based on figures previously released in 2017.
Additionally, the typical salary for a tech role is around 26% higher than the average in Scotland and continues to rise faster than other salaries (15% to 11%).
Claire Gillespie, digital technologies sector skills manager, commented: “There has been a shift from the traditional role of tech as a business support function to being an integral and fundamental part of just doing business. Although this report focuses mostly on tech companies, the reality is that digital skills are now vital for every organisation across the entire economy.”
While the outlook for Scotland’s tech sector is positive, there are still significant challenges ahead in regards to digital skills and gender diversity. Over the past three years, the percentage of women in tech roles increased from 18% to 23%. Despite this, SDS believes there is “still a long way to go” to address this gender imbalance.
Similarly, although there has been a 20% increase in the number of students studying computer science at university level, there has been a concerning 12% decline in pupils taking the subject at school.
For companies operating throughout Scotland’s technology sector, skills will continue to be an area of concern. More than half (53%) of business expect to increase the number of digital vacancies in the next 12-months. However, 76% of tech employers admit that recruiting people with the right skills and experience could pose significant challenges.
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Gillespie noted that work is underway to address skills and the decline of computer science engagement through a partnership with Education Scotland. She also highlighted the growing importance of alternative pathways into digital jobs, such as apprenticeships.
She said: “The type of qualifications on offer in schools have always been widening. Apprenticeships, particularly Foundation Apprentices, offer a great alternative to traditional academic routes for youngsters – as do the National Progression Awards.
“And, of course, maths is a particularly good way of getting into computing-related work. There were more than 80,000 maths passes last year. So although the decline in computer science uptake is concerning, there are plenty of other options and opportunities for pupils interested in careers in digital technology.”
Digital minister Kate Forbes MSP welcomed the report findings and hailed the work being undertaken to address Scotland’s skills issues.
She said: “Scotland has a skilled workforce and we are in a strong position to respond to global challenges and opportunities such as the impact of technological change, and this report highlights the progress being made in addressing the digital skills gaps.
“We will continue to work with businesses and to meet the growing demand for digital skills, many of which are considered in our Future Skills Action Plan and STEM Strategy.”