Scottish government needs to "move quicker" on digital skills gap or jobs will go elsewhere, says ScotlandIS

The Scottish government needs to "move quicker" on tackling Scotland's digital technologies skill shortages as new figures showed the country was heading towards a potential skills crisis, ScotlandIS executive director Polly Purvis said today.

Intervention: ScotlandIS executive director Purvis called for action

The release of the annual ScotlandIS technology industry survey revealed around 45,000 new professionals will be needed in the next five years for the fastest-growing sector in Scotland. The IT and digital industries currently employ over 100,000 people and 70 per cent of survey respondents said they planned to take on more staff in 2013, a rise of 10 per cent from 2012. However, companies reported increasing difficulty in filling vacancies and complained of skills shortages in digital and IT, leading to calls from Purvis for intervention.

"We're working with the Scottish government on this but I'd like to see them moving quicker on it," she explained. "We need to see a lot of work done right across the board, everything from careers advice to re-skilling people who have come out of other industries with the right skills to work in the digital technology industries and I think it needs some real intervention.

"We are trying to make that happen with the government but we need to up the pace. I'd like to see something like a digital skills academy, similar to the one launched for the oil and gas sector recognising their skills shortages. I think we need the same sort of approach for digital skills as well."

More than 40,000 jobs are accounted for in Scotland by the digital media sector, which makes up around 65 per cent of the nation's creative industries. Glasgow was recently allocated £24m from the Technology Strategy Board to become a 'future cities demonstrator', showing how technology can be used to integrate health, transport, energy and public safety services.

"Everywhere you go the government is looking to digitise its services and move to delivering services online," Purvis continued. "There's been a significant increase in the use of digital technologies and I think that's what's fuelling the demand for skills.

"We're trying to pull the country out of a long recession and digital technologies is one of the growth areas that we absolutely have to get behind - if we don't, I think the jobs will go elsewhere."

The survey found that 80 per cent of respondents expected sales increases in 2013 and there was a high demand for graduates in the industry. Software and web development skills were said to be in highest demand, followed by commercial, business and project management skills. It was predicted that Scotland could create 1,000 new businesses over the next five years - contributing around £12bn to the economy - by enabling digital technologies. However, creative diversity director at Channel 4 and chair of the Scottish digital media advisory group, Stuart Cosgrove, said Scotland needs to address some key issues.

"Scotland has always had a bit of a disconnect between creativity and business, it is not unique to digital," said Cosgrove. "For Scotland, the gulf between a highly literate digital workforce and pockets of deep poverty in all forms of literacy, from financial to digital access, remains a problem."

ScotlandIS has worked with Scottish education authorities in recent years in an attempt to bring a new approach to digital in the curriculum, an area which Cosgrove agreed needed development.

"Schools probably aren't providing adequate digital education and training to young people," he said. "Although, digital literacy is often restrained by other anxieties, such as how safe the web is and worries about young people and social media.

"Scotland has a very strong emergent digital media culture with strengths in games, digital agencies and web-based services," he added. "There are hotspots, for example the casual games sector in Dundee, but it's important to understand that digital talent can be more mobile and tele-commute in ways that it couldn't for previous creative generations."

The lack of skilled digital workers in Scotland was said to be forcing employers to look further afield for staff, with the survey reporting 52 per cent of respondents expecting to recruit from outside the country. But while some of the workforce would consist of graduates and specifically trained staff, Purvis explained Scotland could be developing its existing workforce from other industries to adapt for digital.

"We need to make sure that young people go through our colleges and universities to find jobs in Scotland but I think we have to encourage people from other industries to come into our sector," she said. "That could be done through induction courses and taking people who've got the main relevant skills and developing them for digital.

"Small companies have recognised over the last few years the need to have the right commercial skills in place and that's a great opportunity to take people from other industries. We're seeing people being recruited from project management and digital marketing - those skills are transferable across a number of industries."

The survey was the eighth annual offering from ScotlandIS, the representative organisation for Scotland's software, telecommunications, IT and digital technologies companies and was carried out in January/February 2013.

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