News of a perceived shortage of skills was reported earlier this week, after a survey among 800 rural businesses was conducted by Amazon for the SRUC and Rural England. The report found that a clear majority of 80% of rural businesses are already using e-commerce to deliver digital services to customers.
Despite this, 52% of rural firms also claimed that they still faced particularly skill-based obstacles to unlocking further growth. Two points of concern were recruiting people with more digital knowhow and accessing further skills training for their workforce.
Dr Jane Atterton, of the Rural Policy Centre at SRUC, said: “Rural businesses are already making use of connectivity where they can, something which is bringing business benefits and improving the global competitiveness of our rural economy.
“However, it’s clear they want to do more and can be better supported to do so, whether that’s through skills training or with digital support.”
But the SRUC is fighting back, and in the same week has also announced the creation of Centre of Excellence for Digital Agriculture and Animal Health. The new £2 million centre will be housed in a new building on development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise’s Inverness Campus.
According to the SRUC, the centre will for the first time combine veterinary disease surveillance, research, education and rural business consultancy, which will hopefully in turn develop wider rural science, education and services.
The investment is also predicted to enable six new data-driven positions to adapt the information already-collected by the SRUC. This data will in-part also help to develop postgraduate digital skills courses as well as continue the delivery of the College’s professional services. The SRUC has also promised improvements to its undergrad and postgrad output in veterinary education in the region.
Positive Impact On Rural Economies
Professor Jamie Newbold, SRUC’s Academic Director, said: “We’re very excited about this new development in our partnership with HIE. SRUC has an ambitious regional, national and global strategy to increase its positive impact on rural economies. Key to our new strategy is collaboration with existing and new partners, achieved through the sharing of expertise, resources and facilities.
“Our new Centre will open up huge opportunities and give us the scope to deliver new services. Examples include the harnessing of ‘big data’ and digital technology for use in research and education and improvements in the responsiveness and impact of the advisory services we offer to local farmers.”
The SRUC-Rural England survey found that almost one-third of the 800 rural businesses questioned said that in addition to the widespread internal digital skills gap (one-in-five businesses reported struggling to recruit the appropriate digital skills), 14% of firms also have difficulties in sourcing external digital support.
And despite these challenges, almost four-in-five of business owners believe that digital tools and services are essential to their future growth. The most popular of these services already adopted is cloud computing, followed by 5G, the Internet of Things and AI.
The report also identifies digital success stories from Scotland’s agricultural industry, such as Queensferry-based IceRobotics which is one of the 62% of firms that have switched to cloud computing.
The firm has used data collection services to monitor the behaviour of dairy cows, information which it disseminates to the farming sector via the cloud platform, while also using sensor tech to monitor the fertility and health of livestock. These services could allow farmers to refine the pastoral farming process overall.
Douglas Armstrong, CEO of IceRobotics, said: “The growth potential cloud computing brings to the agricultural sector is significant, so the faster we get rural businesses adopting new technology, the more globally competitive rural Britain will be.”