A new £1m skills and training fund has been opened up to support businesses as they retrain people for future job roles as Scotland transitions to a data-driven economy.

The Scottish Government-backed fund will help small firms to upskill and re-skill their workforces in a range of data analytics, data science, and other data-related activities.

The Data Lab, Scotland’s Innovation Centre for data and AI, will oversee two new funding schemes – Data Skills for Work, and an SME data internship grant – to support further business investment and innovation in the sector.

Data Skills for Work is designed to diversify the workforce by helping adults to upskill and reskill in data to progress in their careers. Initially launched in Edinburgh and south-east Scotland through the City Region Deal, the new funding means up to £100,000 in additional Data Skills Credits can now be rolled out across Scotland to support the small to medium enterprise (SME) workforce to upskill and reskill.

Empowering people to take advantage of the world of work shaped by data-driven innovation, Data Skills for Work, part of the Data Driven Innovation (DDI) Skills Gateway, aims to enhance Scotland’s labour market with a range of data skills. The programme prioritises support for workers in jobs that are being changed by automation, women returning to the workplace, people with disabilities, and BAME communities. It has already supported 70 people in the City Region since the first round of funding was announced in December.

The additional Data Skills Credits funding is open to employers and training providers. In addition to providing leadership training, it will offer ongoing support from The Data Lab, helping companies to adopt data-driven innovation and embrace a more data-literate workforce.

Up to £300,000 in funding will also be allocated through a small grants scheme to private sector SMEs and start-ups to progress in their data journeys by providing them with the opportunity to host a master’s student who can undertake a short data science project to benefit the business.

The students, who are currently studying master’s level data science, AI and data engineering through The Data Lab’s MSc programme, will bring the latest industry knowledge and cutting-edge skills to organisations, whilst benefitting from invaluable, hands-on experience during the global pandemic.

The placement programme is open to any Scottish organisation looking to inject state of the art data science technologies, creativity and enthusiasm into their work, with students available for 8-12 week placements from June.

Funds will be allocated to the first 60 SMEs that confirm a student/project match, and with demand expected to be high, businesses are encouraged to apply as soon as possible. The deadline for students to be paired with a project is 31 March.

Gillian Docherty, CEO of The Data Lab, said: “As we support a Covid-19 recovery across the economy, the additional funding from the Scottish Government is being put to good use through our new schemes. The grants are designed to support data literacy amongst companies in Scotland, which can hopefully pave the way for a greater understanding of how data and AI can support businesses, in addition to helping those who are eager to upskill or reskill for career diversification and progression.

“The value of data for business is huge, though it still a largely untapped potential for many companies – particularly SMEs and start-ups which often need external support at the earlier stages. As such, funding designed to support these organisations via access to our creative, inspiring student cohort, is the perfect way to benefit both businesses and those getting ready to enter the workforce.”

Details for how to apply to the Data Skills for Work Credit and the SME data internship funding grant, can be accessed via The Data Lab’s website.