Rural businesses see digital technology as key to growth but face skills and training barriers
Today, Rural England and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) published their interim findings about the use of digital tools and services by businesses in rural areas. The report, commissioned by us earlier this year, aims to understand how to grow the digital economy in rural areas through e-commerce, exports and productivity gains, the level of digital skills and capabilities in rural areas and how to further improve them, and what digital business tools and services best support rural businesses.
Following a consultation over 800 rural businesses, Rural England and SRUC found that, overall, rural businesses are embracing the digital economy but face barriers to digital adoption due to a lack of skills and access to training in rural areas.
Almost four-in-five rural business owners believe digital tools and services are important to their future growth potential. Cloud computing is seen as the biggest driver (62 per cent), closely followed by 5G mobile networks (54 per cent), the Internet of Things (47 per cent) and Machine Learning/Artificial Intelligence (26 per cent).
Rural business owners who export say e-commerce plays a big role, with 80 per cent using digital tools and services to trade goods and services abroad. The top export destinations for rural businesses are the EU (84 per cent) followed by the U.S. (45 per cent). In addition, 43 per cent of all rural businesses specifically sell online through their own site or via a third party site, with the top two sectors using e-commerce being retail (80 per cent) and the accommodation & food sector (71 per cent).
However beyond issues with internet reliability and speed, over half (52 per cent) of rural business owners say they face a variety of skills-related obstacles to adopting digital to unlock more growth, such as recruiting people with appropriate skills to finding training for their existing workforce. Almost a third (30 per cent) have difficulty finding external or outsourced digital connectivity support, 14 per cent have difficulty accessing appropriate external digital training for the existing workforce and one-in-five (20 per cent) say their existing workforce lacks sufficient skills and struggle to recruit people with appropriate digital skills.
The final report is due to be published in the New Year. For more information the upcoming report, visit: https://ruralengland.org/unlocking-the-digital-potential-of-rural-areas-research/.