The UK technology sector has been handed an £18.5 million cash injection by the Government in an effort to drive up skills in artificial intelligence and data science and support more adults to upskill and retrain to boost their careers or to find new employment.
Up to 2,500 people will have the opportunity to retrain and become data science and AI experts following the creation of a £13.5 million investment fund to pay for new degree and masters conversion courses and scholarships at UK academic institutions over the next three years.
In addition, £5 million is being invested to encourage tech companies to develop cutting-edge solutions, using AI and automation, to improve the quality of online learning for adults.
The Adult Learning Technology Innovation Fund, which will be launched in partnership with innovation foundation Nesta, will provide funding and expertise to incentivise firms to harness new technologies to develop bespoke, flexible, inclusive, and engaging online training opportunities to support more people into skilled employment.
According to the Government, tech companies already employ more than 2.1 million people and contribute £184 billion to the economy every year. It claims that inward investment to the UK AI sector stood at £1bn for 2018, which is more than Germany, France, Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland combined.
Speaking ahead of his speech at the CogX, the festival of AI and emerging technology, digital secretary Jeremy Wright said: "The UK has a long-standing reputation for innovation, world-leading academic institutions and a business-friendly environment and everyone, regardless of their background, should have the opportunity to build a successful career in our world-leading tech sector."
Potential applicants to the AI and data conversion courses will hold a degree in other disciplines and scholarships will be made available to support applications from diverse backgrounds. This could include people returning to work after a career break and looking to retrain in a new profession, under-represented groups in the AI and digital workforce, including women and people from minority ethnic backgrounds, or lower socio-economic backgrounds.
Tech Nation statistics published in 2018 revealed that fewer than one in five (19%) of the UK tech workforce are women.
The Government hopes that creating a more diverse future workforce will help with the design of new technology, including the fair and accurate development of algorithms, and tackle social challenges - from protecting the environment, to transforming the way consumers live and work, and saving lives through diagnosing diseases earlier.