A MAJOR business group has called for government support to tackle a shortage of digital skills in Scotland, which it said is hampering productivity.

A UK-wide survey by the British Chambers of Commerce found that 83 per cent of firms in Scotland said digital and IT skills are more important to their businesses now than they were two years ago, with almost half (44 per cent) saying these skills are significantly more important.

But the survey also found that more than 80 per cent of businesses are facing a shortage of digital skills in their workforce, with 59 per cent describing it as a slight shortage, one fifth saying it was significant, and four per cent describing it as a critical deficiency.

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According to the survey, basic computer knowledge is the most important skill to three-quarters of companies, followed by communicating and connecting through digital channels (73 per cent) and managing digital information (72 per cent).

Adverse effects of skills shortages were reported by many firms, with 57 per cent saying they increased the workload on existing staff, 38 per cent reporting that they caused difficulties in meeting customer requirements and one third saying they resulted in higher operating costs.

Businesses see the main barriers to addressing the shortages as a lack of time for staff training (45 per cent), difficulty in identifying appropriate training (43 per cent) and its high cost (33 per cent).

“Digital skills are vital to growing productivity in Scotland’s businesses and to getting our economy back on track,” said Scottish Chambers of Commerce (SCC) chief executive Liz Cameron.

“Without access to the right skills, too many of our businesses will not reach their full potential.

“While the vast majority of businesses clearly recognise this fact, it is concerning that so many are reporting knowledge gaps and skills shortages that are having a direct impact on business.

“That is why it is important that our governments at a Scottish and UK level work harder to reduce business costs through taxation in order to free up the resources that businesses need to invest in these skills for the future.”

She added: “In addition, as the UK enters negotiation on our withdrawal from the EU, this survey underlines the vital need for the UK Government to put plans in place to ensure that our future migration strategy recognises this key skill shortage and enables businesses to access individuals with the talents that they need both from domestic and international markets.”

British Chambers of Commerce carried out the online survey of 1,465 business people in January to gain an understanding of how they rated the overall reliability of their broadband connections, and how a more dependable connection could help their businesses.

The skills shortage has been evident for some time, and was highlighted in a survey last month from digital trade body ScotlandIS.

It said software and web development were the skills most in demand, but noted that commercial, business support and project management skills were also required by more than two thirds of companies.

The research found that demand for experienced staff outstripped the need for graduates for the first time since 2013, although it also found the need for university graduates continued to be a priority for firms of all sizes.