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Businesses set to bridge data scientist skills gap through new University of Nottingham degree apprenticeship

University of Nottingham

Businesses who want to improve their data quality and become better data-informed, but may lack the right skills to execute a successful strategy in response, have received a boost with the launch of a new Data Scientist degree apprenticeship by the University of Nottingham.

The apprenticeship, now enrolling ahead of a September 2021 start, will help to address the UK’s chronic shortage of data talent which by the Government’s own admission is costing organisations more than £2 billion a year. It will enable employees from a broad range of industries – including energy, finance, healthcare, higher education, insurance, pharma, public sector, research and science-based organisations – to gain a deeper understanding of the area of data science, giving them the skills to address the issues raised by large-scale data analysis and facilitate data-driven decision making.

Against the backdrop of the government’s National Data Strategy, which outlines its ambition to establish the UK as a world-leading data economy and highlights data skills as one of the focus areas to reach its goal, the new University of Nottingham programme will develop the core mathematical and computer science skills needed to present, analyse and understand large data sets. Apprentices, who will be awarded a Level 6 Data Scientist apprenticeship certificate and a BSc (Hons) Data Science upon successful completion of the qualification, will use real-life examples from the workplace to enhance and consolidate their teaching and learning, thus giving real-time benefits to employers.

“Many businesses are waking up to the fact that data is one of their most valuable assets and data scientists are needed everywhere,” said Assistant Professor and Programme Director Dr Ria Symonds. “Whilst this has the potential to give them a competitive advantage, the issue is that business leaders often struggle to hire data talent. Also, in my experience, employees are often already working with data in their jobs but lack the tools to utilise it effectively. Our degree apprenticeship is designed to give new and existing staff in-depth knowledge of how to take and analyse data: so very simply what they do with it, what models and methods they should run, what the restrictions may be around those, how reliable the data is, and ultimately communicating and presenting it to stakeholders.”

Dr Symonds added that the programme could also “help to attract more diversified talent to organisations, with the degree apprenticeship pathway opening up routes for people who may not previously have considered higher skills”. Successfully recruiting top talent into technical apprenticeship roles was explored in a webinar during National Apprenticeship Week.

For employers, degree apprenticeships present a cost-effective approach to workforce development, and businesses which have a wage bill over £3 million can fund the programme from their apprenticeship levy. Firms with a wage bill under £3 million can still access this programme for their employees, and may be eligible for 95% government co-investment. It also means they can invest in the technical skills of staff who will be driving the innovation abilities of their organisation for years to come, and attract and retain top talent by giving employees the opportunity to gain a world-class degree without paying tuition fees. Furthermore, in the recent Budget, Rishi Sunak announced that incentives for taking on an apprentice as a new employee will be increased to £3,000 until September 2021, representing a doubling of the current payment for over-25s.

One business expressing its support for the University of Nottingham programme is the Ford Skill Sprint Team, which said: “The Data Science degree apprenticeship has the potential to provide our highly-talented Ford colleagues with additional skills and knowledge. From our perspective the structure offered allows for the new capabilities gained to be rapidly applied to our business to unlock new insights and ultimately offer better services and products to our customers. We aim to foster a learning environment where individuals are able to apply their new knowledge to our increasingly digitised world and promote business-wide data driven decision making. Further, by retraining our internal team using the apprenticeship levy we provide new opportunities and motivation as the business transforms. Industry-wide, the complexity of data is accelerating and demand for data skills is increasing. Therefore, accessing data literate personnel familiar with the specific challenges is difficult. By training and developing our existing employees at Ford we capitalise on existing domain knowledge and build new data skills targeting Ford’s opportunities.”

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