Empowering Scotland’s learners to lead their data literacy career development

By working with more than 1,500 companies, public sector organisations and universities, The Data Lab is helping to make Scotland the global leader in data innovation. Its programme manager for professional development, Anna Scott explains how technology is helping to break down the barriers to data literacy upskilling, and how it is empowering students and the wider workforce across Scotland to take ownership of their professional development

Data literacy is not something innate within us, but rather a set of skills that anyone can learn if given the right opportunity and environment to do so. Breaking down barriers to data literacy is essential if we are to help upskill individuals and entire workforces to a standard level.

This is more than possible and can be achieved through training courses that utilise data to best understand how people learn and how they can be supported. At The Data Lab, our purpose is to change lives and make Scotland a more productive economy and create a sustainable society by transforming the way we use data.

One of eight innovation centres in Scotland, our upskilling and reskilling programme Data Skills for Work is intended to signpost learners to data training and short courses from external training providers, and our Masters programme helps prepare students with the professional training that industry needs.

Adapting to today’s digital environment

Data is all around us and plays an important role in our everyday lives. It is also reflected in many employers’ requirements, which seek out individuals with the component skills needed to work in today’s digital environment.

One of the KPIs of the programme is to know how our learners’ training has impacted their employability. We also want to support our learners’ upskilling through accessible entry points – to map and track their learner journey to provide the skills they need from multiple providers while capturing their progress along the way. With the help of the skills development platform, Inkpath, we’ve done just that.

We knew that we needed it to host our skills framework, and to host learning journeys so that we could direct people to the right training for them, and to have a feedback process where people were encouraged to tell us about what they had learned.

A unified portal for all learners

The platform went live for our Masters students and Data Skills for Work-funded learners in September 2021. Now, the booking, attendance and feedback process is created and tracked through one unified portal. We previously used email for all of this administration, which was time-consuming, difficult to collate and our feedback rate was much lower.

Working with Inkpath, we gamified the process, creating a ‘fitness tracker for skills’ as we call it. It encourages people to take ownership of their own journey and has a great design and interface.

With our previous processes, we relied on people taking time to respond to emails from us, whereas now providing feedback is quick, easy, more accessible, and far less intimidating. Crucially, learners can take charge of their development.

The new system has also given us more visibility on how we can improve and evolve training against our skills framework – it’s helped us see what further services we could be offering.

Our MSc programme, which brings together students from universities across Scotland who are studying courses in data science/engineering and AI, for a programme of employability and skills boosting events and workshops, was the test bed for the new platform. Around 160 students trialled Inkpath and provided extremely positive feedback. We have since rolled it out to around 300 of our Data Skills for Work-funded learners, who are seeing the benefits of having a unified portal to view the training opportunities available to them.  A further roll-out to our new funded integrated Masters Programme, open to fourth-year students undertaking an MSCi, MENg or MInf Computer Science degree in Scotland with data science modules, will follow in October 2022.

Utilising tech for upskilling

Our upskilling programme is funded by the Edinburgh & South East Scotland City Region Deal and has demonstrated an approach to regional upskilling across all levels of data literacy, which isn’t happening elsewhere. Our aim is to roll out this model across Scotland.

The Data Lab has developed some genuinely great partnerships with universities and training providers that offer the right type of courses, and we want students, individuals and employers to identify their data upskilling needs to benefit from these links.

Technology is helping us to break down barriers and give our students an entry point to learning how their data is captured and used, as well as connecting them with the technical skills that they need for future employment.

By bringing together people from all sectors and utilising technology designed around our needs, we can make sure we are applying data science responsibly and building a future where data benefits everyone.

Website: dataskillsforwork.com/inkpath

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