The Government announced its intention to support a degree conversion course programme in data science and artificial intelligence (AI) at London Tech Week in June 2019.
In response, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Office for Artificial Intelligence (OAI) are supporting the development of flexible conversion courses to help people pursue careers in AI and data science, including those from near-STEM and non-STEM degrees.
Aims of the new conversion courses
Responding to skills shortages
The primary goal of the new conversion courses is to respond to the shortage of data science and AI specialists in the UK. The Government's Digital Strategy predicted that within 20 years, 90 per cent of all jobs will require some element of digital skills.
According to research from the Open University, the skills gap is costing UK businesses more than £2 billion a year in higher salaries, recruitment costs and temporary staffing. Their 2019 Bridging the Digital Divide report highlights the extent of digital skills gaps and the impact they are having on organisations and their employees.
The supply of skilled graduates would need to increase significantly to keep pace with current demand, and it is expected that demand will also increase rapidly in the next few years.
The other important aim for this programme of work is to increase the number of people from groups currently underrepresented in the AI and data science fields, and to encourage graduates from diverse backgrounds to consider a future in these occupations.
This lack of diversity was highlighted in the government's AI Sector Deal, which acknowledges that increasing diversity in the AI workforce is vital to ensure that everyone with the potential to participate has the opportunity to do so. For example, women represent 49 per cent of the workforce, but hold less than 19 per cent of all available technology jobs.
These new conversion courses will build on work already underway to diversify the sector. In the video below, Isabel Chapman from TechMums talks about work they've been doing with FutureLearn, the University of Leeds and UKBlackTech to provide flexible learning and working environments for women to find employment in the digital industry.
Learning from other pilot conversion courses
In 2015, a programme to develop pilot conversion courses at masters’ degree level in engineering, data science, cyber security and computing was launched.
The learning from these pilots will help to inform the development of this new programme. Read more about these conversion courses and the findings from the pilot.