SKILLS gaps, lack of access to funding and dodgy broadband coverage has long hindered Scotland’s digital sector, but a new Digital Strategy could be just what’s required to solve the problems and boost digital businesses across the country.

Launched last week, the strategy aims to boost business connectivity with higher broadband speeds, increase the number of digital jobs to 150,000 by 2021, address the skills issues with a new digital schools programme, and increase funding with a £36 million Digital Growth Fund to provide loans to companies who wish to develop the digital skills of their staff.

It’s a big step forward for the digital technologies industry, which is already an increasingly important part of Scotland’s economy: it contributes more than £5 billion annually to the Scottish GVA and the number of tech sector enterprises in Scotland grew by 43.3 per cent between 2010 and 2015. Trade body ScotlandIS estimates more than 84,000 people work in digital technology roles.

Graeme Gordon, chair of ScotlandIS, hopes the new strategy will alleviate the skills shortage. He says the number of students coming out of university, colleges and apprenticeships with relevant qualifications is too low to meet industry demand, but increasing the number of relevantly skilled young people coming into the workforce takes a long time.

“If we are to reap the productivity rewards digital technologies offer in terms of business and process transformation, the biggest opportunity lies in reskilling and upskilling the current workforce, who will need the skills to adapt to an increasingly changing workplace,” said Gordon. “The loans provided through the Digital Growth Fund will enable more employers to close the skills gap within their companies by upskilling and/or reskilling existing employees.”

Additional funding for training will be key for Patrick Clover, founder of BLACKBX and Brian Ferrie, CEO of Edge Testing. Clover says access to much-needed loan funding to help support his business during the current growth phase will be hugely beneficial.

But it’s the broadband connectivity pledge in the strategy that could significantly boost BLACKBX, a guest Wi-Fi software product.

“I started this business because I became increasingly frustrated with the poor quality of guest Wi-Fi,” added Clover. “Continuing access to better broadband speeds will ensure that more people are connected and are able to benefit from Wi-Fi.”

Ferrie addressed the skills gap back in 2012 by launching his own training academy to recruit school leavers, graduates and career switchers into a two-year programme before seeding them into ongoing digital projects to learn from more experienced staff.

He said:“Forty per cent of our workforce is now under 25. With the recognised skills shortage in the digital technology market our challenge now is in competing with everyone else for the small number of qualified resources.”