Attracting and training talent for the AI-enabled economy

Professor of computer science reads lecture to a classroom full of multi ethnic students. Teacher holds laptop with deep learning, artificial intelligence infographics on the screen.

With artificial intelligence becoming increasingly prevalent, how will the UK workforce need to adapt to develop, deploy and work alongside these technologies?

Digital transformation

With companies going through more disruption than ever to remain competitive, they have realised that they must embrace new technologies and adapt quickly. This is evidenced by increased investment in digital and cloud technology.

One of the fastest growing trends as part of corporate digital transformation programmes is data and artificial intelligence (AI). Appropriate and effective adoption can help create new commercial opportunities and maximise operational efficiencies.

The UK government has recognised the benefits of AI technologies and, building on the 2018 AI sector deal, published its first national AI strategy in September last year.

The strategy seeks to strengthen the UK’s position as a global science superpower, harnessing its potential to improve people’s lives and solve global challenges, such as climate change and public health.

Three key pillars have been identified to transition the UK to an AI-enabled economy:

  • ensure all sectors and regions of the economy benefit
  • encourage innovation, investment
  • protection through effective governance.

Data and AI workforce

Two male engineer workers carrying out maintenance on an automatic robotic arm machine in a smart factory.

Credit: Amorn Suriyan, Getty Images

This bold ambition relies on a diverse, skilled workforce able to reap the benefits of data and AI to support organisations to be successful in their transformations.

To make a success of data and AI, organisations need to look at the full AI project supply chain. This starts with identifying a business opportunity that can benefit from AI all the way through to the:

  • validation
  • implementation
  • testing
  • deployment.

Once the product or service has been deployed, organisations have to consider longer-term:

  • adoption
  • maintenance
  • risks
  • governance.

This requires a vast range of skills:

  • commercial acumen to identify business opportunities
  • technical skills to recognise and implement best practices and solutions for specific use cases
  • communication and risks management.

Attracting and training AI talent in the UK

Unfortunately, there currently is a massive shortage of specialist digital skills including in data and AI. As companies face several capability gaps preventing development, commercialisation or adoption of AI successfully, a one-size-fits-all solution to attract talent and train people will not work.

Thankfully, a range of solutions are available for academics, jobseekers, and employers.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has already made significant investment in centres for doctoral training (CDTs) in AI and Turing AI Fellowships.

The government has committed to continue supporting these interventions, as well as AI conversion courses and postgraduate industrial-funded masters.

Such investments will retain top AI talent in UK academic institutions, but industry needs immediate ways to capitalise on the sustained pipeline of talent.

Innovate UK’s Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) programme, a three-way partnership between a UK business, a research organisation, and a graduate ‘KTP associate’, ensures the latest academic thinking is accessible to businesses.

Collaboration can be a vital approach

Collaboration can be a vital approach for companies to access the specific technical skills or expertise they require.

Collaborative research and development (R&D) grants offered by Innovate UK play an important role in increasing the number of such collaborations. These help to accelerate the development and deployment of new or improved AI products, processes and services.

Through upskilling, businesses can tap into their existing workforce by ensuring they are able to understand and work effectively with AI technologies.

For example, a new UKRI initiative called the Hartree National Centre for Digital Innovation (HNCDI) has recently been launched, in partnership with IBM. This will provide free supercomputing, data analytics and AI training to businesses to address this barrier.

Government-funded apprenticeships offer employers another route to growing and retaining AI talent within their organisation.

Apprenticeships offer a well-defined route for upskilling people into new technical roles such as data scientists and machine learning engineers. They are a significant tool for employers to build a sustainable talent pipeline.

Not just for those early in their careers, apprenticeships are also applicable to experienced talent looking to advance their skill set or change careers, which is increasingly becoming necessary.

Life-long learning and reskilling

The world is moving and changing fast. As a result, so is the requirement for continual upskilling to stay relevant. Employers are recognising that investing in professional development is now more necessary than ever as part of their people strategy.

The future of work means continuous learning and acquiring new skills. It presents employers with a fantastic opportunity to invest in a loyal workforce that understand the subtlety of the organisation, their sector specific business cases and reskill them in high-demand skills. It allows employers to tap into a longer-term more diverse talent pool.

Concretely, how can an organisation go about implementing a talent attraction and development strategy in the context of data and AI skills?

Innovate UK and Cambridge Spark

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Credit: PeopleImages, Getty Images

Cambridge Spark is an education technology company that enables organisations to achieve their business goals by educating their workforce in data science and AI.

Cambridge Spark has received R&D funding from Innovate UK to develop a patented-platform EDUKATE.AI which provides a modern solution to the global digital skills gap.

Cambridge Spark is the only specialist data science apprenticeship provider in the UK, offering a full-stack skills solution for data science at every level of an organisation. This includes fully funded government apprenticeships and degrees.

Cambridge Spark has partnered with a range of organisations to support their AI skills strategy by designing and deploying training programmes for their workforce. The organisations include:

  • Pfizer
  • Surrey County Council
  • Exertis
  • GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)
  • NHS.

Developing skills for Pfizer

In 2021, Pfizer launched its UK Data Academy in partnership with Cambridge Spark, with the aim of developing key data skills and capability across its UK workforce.

The Pfizer UK Data Academy consists of skills development programmes suited to every level and covering essential skills such as:

  • data literacy
  • data analysis
  • data science and AI.

This utilises government funding through the UK’s apprenticeship scheme.

In a pharmaceutical company, false results that lead to incorrect conclusions can impact lives. Four teams of data science apprentices were given real data sets relating to real experiments, including:

  • diabetes
  • flu infections
  • COVID-19.

They could then simulate real data projects in a safe, sandbox environment, exploring and comparing the different data sets using Cambridge Spark’s EDUKATE.AI proprietary learning platform in the classroom.

The Python based tools and techniques that they learned were immediately transferable to the workplace.

Further information

For more information, please contact Josie Jakub, Head of Marketing by email or visit our website.

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