Scotland’s people have, historically, been our greatest asset, making a significant impact both within the UK and abroad. The impact made overseas by Scots has been remarkable given our small population.
The Scottish Government’s own strategy incorporates “the Four Is” s as highest priorities, beginning with “Investing in our people and infrastructure in a sustainable way”. But are we doing enough to unlock the true potential of Scotland and embrace the opportunities that arise, even in a post-Brexit environment?
A critical factor for Scotland will be the ability of its companies and institutions to engage effectively with many new markets. The majority of these sit in Asia and require a special knowledge of practices and customs to ensure success. Since most companies in Scotland are SMEs this means that they need to wake up to the need to create market entry strategies and produce the right products and services to attract both investors and customers or clients.
There is a shortage of qualified people to meet new markets requirements and the hiring priorities of SMEs, especially in hi-tech and technology-related businesses.
Maggie Morrison, business development director for Scotland at technology group CGI, said one way of addressing the problem would be to change how digital skills such as coding are taught in schools, “starting with primary children”. She says more needs to be done at school, higher education and policy levels.
A small group of firms are addressing this challenge, including Canongate Partners.
Learning starts at an early age. The Scotland China Education Network (SCEN) was founded in 2006 by Dr Judith McClure to bring together individuals, national agencies and associations keen to promote the teaching of Chinese language and culture in Scottish schools.
The SCEN network has more than 350 members, representing a wide range of individuals, groups and agencies across Scotland engaged in promoting links with China and keen to support the China initiative in Scottish schools.
To expand the understanding of Sixth Form students about the Century of Asia – the projected 21st-century dominance of Asian politics and cultur – in which they will live, the Asia Scotland Institute is rolling out a programme explaining the size and key metrics of Pan-Asia and highlighting the skills young people should seek to acquire. Each session encourages students to consider travelling to an Asian country, think about what to study at college and become more aware of the factors that are likely to dominate events in the 21st century. The Institute has also embarked on a series aimed at universities, with the first launched at Stirling University this month.
In many cases the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Scotland, with initiatives such as Entrepreneurial Scotland “creating a community, a network of peers who share the determination and ambition to create and/or grow companies and other organisations”. Its CEO, Sandy Kennedy, says: “Could Scotland become the most entrepreneurial society in the world? We believe that it can and our team is focussed on finding and supporting the people who have the ambition.”
So where are we in the mobilisation of this essential resource, our human capital? The investment in both people and infrastructure referred to as a key government priority must reach out beyond the Central Belt. Tackling the related needs of securing funding for our physical infrastructure by engaging with Chinese and other interested funders is not something to be kicked like a ball into the long grass. The world is on the move and the new leaders whom we encourage and develop must have the platform from which to operate, with European Union funding drying up and a significant shortfall to be met.
We have the chance to reinvent ourselves and provide future generations with the confidence, knowledge and tools to succeed. The challenge is there and the opportunity to grasp it now.
Roddy Gow, Founder, Asia Scotland Institute