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18/11/15 12:48

National Economic Forum

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
18 November 2015

A very warm welcome to everyone here today. As always it is fantastic to see such a broad and diverse range of people here at the National Economic Forum. As Fergus said we meet here today in the shadow of the Paris attacks. As I arrived here I saw, as we all did the French flag flying at half-mast over our national stadium. Our thoughts are very much with the victims of that terrorist atrocity.

I am also mindful that we are meeting in the home of Scottish rugby and today’s a sad day for world rugby with the death announced last night of the All Black Jonah Lomu.

It’s almost exactly two years since the National Economic Forum last concentrated on digital issues. The fact that we’re returning to the subject so soon gives a good indication of how important it is. It is important to our society, it is important to how we live our lives these days but it is fundamentally important to our economy we are seeking to build in the future. And it’s maybe worth starting by reflecting on just how much has happened over those two years.

In late 2013, the Digital Scotland Superfast broadband project hadn’t fully started. Now, it’s making broadband available to approximately 7,000 properties every single week. By the end of 2017, 95 per cent of properties across Scotland will have access to superfast broadband.

To give some idea of the scale of progress - two years ago, only four per cent of homes in the Highlands could get superfast broadband – now, it’s 59 per cent. By the end of next year, that proportion will increase to 84 per cent.

And we see that as a staging post, rather than an endpoint. We are working with local communities to reach the remaining properties in the Highlands and across Scotland, and we are also working with mobile operators to upgrade mobile coverage.

But of course, getting the right infrastructure in place is one thing. We also need to ensure that people have the skills and confidence they need in order to make maximum use technology and infrastructure.

Some of that is about digital participation in its widest sense – ensuring that people of all ages and all generations are able to go online. Although there is still significantly more to do, we’ve made good progress there – partly and quite significantly through the work being led by the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations. Go On UK published research last month showed that more than four/five of the people in Scotland now have basic digital skills – that’s the highest level in any nation of the UK.

However it is also very important to have more people with the skills to take up jobs which use digital technology, and we need businesses of all sizes to take advantage of new technology. That’s going to be the main focus of my speech this morning.

After all, I think it is fair to say that the economic opportunities for Scotland are limitless. The biggest entertainment launch in history – Grand Theft Auto 5 – was developed in Scotland. The Xbox version of another of the largest-selling video games ever, Minecraft, was developed by 4J Studios.

Scotland in the last couple of years has consolidated its reputation as a growing tech hub, due to the Techcube incubator and the achievements of companies like Skyscanner. Scottish companies are already achieving global success – and we should be very aware and proud of that.

And of course digital technology also underpins the success of other sectors such as energy and financial services. It’s absolutely fundamental to the new technologies and approaches being developed in our innovation centres – in fields like stratified medicine, digital health, big data, and sensors and imaging. In fact, it’s in my view crucial and essential to the innovation and internationalisation which we put at the centre of our economic strategy we need to drive productivity growth in our economy.

That’s why research commissioned for the Scottish Futures Trust estimated that the value for Scotland of being a leading digital nation could reach almost £10 billion a year by 2030 – that’s almost £2,000 per person.

So promoting digital skills is such an important economic priority. And it’s one if we are going to be successful has to be a shared across the public, private and third sectors.

Already in Scotland around 84,000 people who work in ICT and digital technology. That’s an increase of more than 10,000 in less than two years. We know that we will need thousands more digital specialists in the years to come.

We also know that jobs in digital technology tend to be well-paid, fulfilling, challenging jobs. If we ensure people have the skills to do them, it will benefit our economy as a whole, and it will also benefit the individuals who find employment as a result.

So we’ve already taken some important steps to do meet these challenges.

We have modernised computer science qualifications in our school – the first students sat the new Higher this summer. We’re currently consulting on a Digital Learning and Teaching strategy, and we’ve recently launched a teacher recruitment campaign with a major focus on science, technology, engineering and maths.

We have also increased the supply of modern apprentices, and increased the number of places available for digital courses in higher and further education.

Just last month, we saw what I thought I really significant development when Codeclan opened its first site in Edinburgh. Codeclan has been developed in partnership with the industry to meet the need for coders. It’s based on successful academies in cities such as New York and London. It gives people from all walks of life the chance to train as software developers in just 16 weeks. It’s a really important step towards meeting a recognised industry need.

There are many other initiatives. A great example is the work that Skills Development Scotland is doing with CGI on a new graduate-level modern apprenticeship.

That’s being launched today – I know that Maggie Morrison from CGI will say more about it in the workshop on skills. CGI will fund at least 20 graduate level apprenticeship places over the next two years.

It’s an important way of enabling people to get university and workplace-based learning, while also being employed and getting paid. I hope we will see other examples in the digital sector.

And last month saw the launch of a new marketing campaign, funded through the Skills Investment Plan. The Digital World Campaign is aimed at inspiring more young people, especially young women, to think about the career options open to them.

I mentioned earlier that digital technology offers a wealth of fulfilling, well-paid, varied careers. It’s also a field, where we don’t often talk about enough, you can make a genuine difference – where doing a good job can help to make other people’s lives better.

However, that’s not always how it’s seen.

And so improving people’s opportunities we also need to improve people’s perceptions that digital skills is important. It’s especially important to encourage more women into the sector.

Estimates this year suggest that the proportion of women working in digital or IT roles in Scotland might be slightly higher than the UK and European average. But the proportion is still far too small; in fact it’s less than a fifth.

Addressing that, and getting the level towards 50 per cent, has to be a priority. If as many women as men joined the digital workforce, we would go a long way towards meeting the need for thousands more employees over the years to come.

We would also – and this is a point which goes beyond digital issues, to science and technology subjects more generally - go a long way towards realising Scotland’s economic potential.

If you think about Scotland’s old industrial pre-eminence in the 18th, 19th, and even early 20th centuries – for example the sheer volume of inventions that came from here – that had its origins in the fact that we were the first society to introduce universal free education.

By educating more people than other nations, we nurtured more individuals who had the skill and talent to invent – although at that time it was almost exclusively men who could make full use of their talents.

If we are to make the most of our potential in the 21st century we will have to maximise opportunities for everyone in Scotland. We cannot afford to pass up on the contribution that women can make to driving the technological and scientific advances of the future.

That’s why we have supported the Careerwise programme, which encourages women to take up modern apprenticeships in careers related to science, technology, engineering and maths. It’s also why tackling gender segregation is an important part of our implementation plan for developing Scotland’s young workforce.

In science, and in the workplace more generally, it is simply unsustainable for the talents of half of our population to be underused. Our economy cannot afford it and our society should not tolerate it.

And whilst this is not about digital skills it is important to say when you’re talking about tackling gender segregation it works both ways. It is about getting more women in traditional male dominated sectors but it is also about getting more men in traditionally female dominated sectors.

In addition to talking about skills, I also want to talk briefly about how our Enterprise agencies are doing to help businesses – especially small and medium-sized enterprises - to take advantage of digital opportunities.

Projects which have been launched recently include the digital vouchers scheme, which has so far helped over 450 companies across Scotland. We’ve also established a digital excellence centre in Inverness. It means that as businesses in the Highlands and Islands gain access to broadband, they have a source of support and advice available to them.

And the final area where we’re looking to help is cyber-resilience.

I know you’ll hear much more about this during today’s event – in Mandy’s talk, the ethical hackers demonstration and one of the workshops.

Let’s be under no illusions about this cyber resilience is linked to national security – and that’s an area where the Scottish Government works closely with the UK Government.

However the possibility of cyber-crime is one which potentially faces all businesses – that applies to major technology firms to small businesses. If you store client details on your computer, or order goods online, you could potentially face a real risk of cyber-crime. So if we are to make the most of the digital revolution, cyber-resilience is increasingly important. That is why today the Scottish Government is launching the first national cyber resilience strategy.

By focusing on four strategic themes - leadership and partnership; awareness raising; education and skills; and research - the strategy sets out high level priorities for Scotland to become one of the world leaders in cyber resilience.

I think it is an important additional step in ensuring that government, businesses and individuals can take full advantage of digital technology. And if we get this right, and become a world leader, it’s potentially another selling point for Scotland as a business destination.

The key point in all of this is that Scotland has a huge opportunity. We’ve got a global reputation for innovation – one which is being bolstered by our existing technology companies. A highly educated workforce – one of the most highly educated workforce anywhere in Europe. Our digital infrastructure is improving all the time.

So by working together on digital skills to ensure that individuals and businesses have the ability and the ambition to succeed in the digital world – we can encourage innovation, boost productivity and deliver sustainable economic growth. And we can encourage more world-leading companies in the digital sector and across the whole economy.

That’s a goal which is well worth working towards. So I’m delighted to be here today; I hope that your workshops are productive; and I look forward to hearing your questions.