A new data skills academy will help address the ‘worrying’ shortage of qualified tech workers in Scotland.

The Data Lab – Scotland’s national innovation centre for data and AI – is expanding the content and reach of its industry-leading MSc programmes to include more specific employability skills training for students.

As part of a drive to increase the talent pipeline for tech firms, the centre’s new ‘Data Lab Academy’ will help create a larger “industry-ready national tech workforce” from within Scotland’s own universities, said Heather Thomson, head of skills at The Data Lab.

The launch of The Data Lab Academy comes after alarming new analysis by The UK’s Digital Economy Council in June revealed more than one tenth (13.2 per cent) of all job vacancies in Scotland is now in the tech sector, with demand for data analysts rising by more than 500 per cent since 2019. 

Since its launch in 2015, more than 800 students have completed The Data Lab’s MSc programme, equipping them with the most-relevant skills demanded by business and industry. 

Crucially, students have been able to secure an 8–12-week, paid work placement at the end of their studies aimed at sharpening their commercial skills and offering potential employers the ability to recruit additional support on vital data and AI projects.

Heather Thomson, head of skills, The Data Lab, said: “The Scottish tech sector desperately needs a stronger, steadier pipeline of talented new data scientists, analysts and engineers, to continue flourishing – and the best way to achieve that is by ensuring a larger industry-ready, national tech workforce is being produced from within our own universities.

“The new Data Lab Academy will help create that pipeline. In addition to having the best technical skills, it will ensure graduates are equipped to meet the demands of industry from day one, as they transition from academia into the workplace. 

“This programme will strengthen their employability by giving them the chance to work on real-world projects, for instance, as well as providing our Academy partners with the opportunity to engage directly with a strong emerging talent pool, to fill gaps in their own organisation – both on a short- and long-term basis.

“The traditional routes to employment have simply not been enough to satisfy industry demand – Scottish academia and industry need to come together to develop new and innovative ideas and pathways to create and develop the best tech talent. 

“Both sides have been extremely supportive of the work we are doing to address the challenges around filling the increasing tech skills gap. We will continue to work hard to maintain strong links with employers, universities and colleges, across a broad range of industries, to find the right solutions for industry.”

In addition to streamlining the hiring and introduction process for both sides, the new The Data Lab Academy will provide employers with direct access to a wider pool of data talent. It will also feature an enhanced programme of employability and skills training in addition to networking opportunities and community building for students. Employers have the opportunity to become partners of the programme, in a variety of ways including event sponsorship and funding places for students to participate in the Academy. 

Students of the Academy will also benefit from access to Data Talent, Scotland’s largest data and AI recruitment event and other significant milestones during the programme, including The Data Lab’s Innovation Week, where they will have the opportunity to apply the data science and AI skills they have developed during their studies to real-world problems and data sets provided by industry partners.