Over the last ten years there has been an explosion in the amount and types of data being shared and collected. Data that is full of potentially interesting, important, and valuable information.
Until recently, however, it has been incredibly difficult and expensive to make sense of much of this data as it is often huge, complicated, and unstructured. As a result of this, there is a huge demand for skills in the emerging field of Data Science.
It was reported in the 2020 ScotlandIS Technology Industry Survey that businesses see the greatest opportunities in the next 18 months being in Data Analytics and artificial intelligence.
However, recruitment and retention of staff is one of the biggest challenges. There are a huge number of opportunities available, but not enough people who possess the required range of knowledge and skills entering the market.
The result of this increasing skills gap is a demand from Scottish employers for more Data Science apprentices, university and college graduates. Businesses are also looking for greater availability of internal training opportunities to support career changers into tech, also known as upskilling. This is where Graduate Apprenticeships (GAs) come in.
Graduate Apprenticeships give companies the opportunity to train and develop new and existing employees through a fully-funded university degree.
Apprentices typically spend 80% of their time in the workplace and 20% at university. Graduate Apprenticeships are available to businesses of any size in Scotland, and tasks and projects apprentices carry out in work can count towards their degree through work-based learning.
The School of Computing at Edinburgh Napier University currently partners with 79 employers in Scotland across four IT Graduate Apprenticeship frameworks, including BSc (Hons) Data Science. Data Science apprentices study on a day release basis, spending one day per working week in the classroom at the university’s Merchiston campus.
This work-integrated learning pattern allows apprentices to continually develop new skills and knowledge, then apply them immediately to their day job.
Employers can benefit from bridging skills gaps and growing their own talent pool, creating the next generation of Data talent in their business without paying any training costs. Businesses typically use Graduate Apprenticeships to recruit and develop new staff members or to offer upskilling opportunities to current employees.
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Edinburgh Napier University employs dedicated GA Employer Engagement staff and first-class academics to support prospective employers and apprentices through their learning journey, ensuring they have all the tools they need to succeed.
Fraser Nicol, a Partner of Business Technology Consultancy at Azets, is already reaping the rewards of upskilling and developing Data Science Graduate Apprentices.
He said: “The scheme helps graduate apprentices gain technical and theoretical knowledge in the domain they are studying, which will help them become business specialists in future.
“The Edinburgh Napier programme is well run, and the quality of the support and tuition that the apprentices receive is very high. We intend to keep using Graduate Apprenticeships to develop our cyber security and data analytics skill base.”
One Registers of Scotland employee who has also benefitted is Maggie Woodward. Maggie works in Data Analytics and is currently in year two of the BSc (Hons) Data Science Graduate Apprenticeship at Edinburgh Napier University.
Here, Maggie explains how a Data Science bootcamp and a well-timed workplace upskilling opportunity led her to the Graduate Apprenticeship.
What attracted you to the Data Science Graduate Apprenticeship?
“I had recently attended a Data Science Bootcamp aimed at encouraging more women into the subject when my employer advertised the opportunity that they would like to support someone through this GA course.
“I had little knowledge of Data Science as a subject before the bootcamp and I came to realise it is the intersection of subjects I have been interested in previously, namely computer programming and mathematics, so I knew it was something I wanted to explore further.”
What does your job entail?
“I’m part of the Business Intelligence and Analytics team. My job role includes providing reporting and analytics for our business areas, creating forecast modelling for our Corporate Plan.
“A typical day might involve meeting with team leaders to talk them through a report we have created, or to gather their requirements for a new report they have requested.
“I’m also involved in creating reports and extracting data from our multiple Universes using Business Objects, analysing, or enriching some data in Excel, or collaborating in my team to map out scenarios and assumptions for an analytical model.”
What do you do at university?
“We are given one day a week away from work duties to attend Edinburgh Napier University (though currently we are attending virtually).
“We follow two modules per trimester, and for each module we have a mixture of lectures and practical labs, which I really like because I find using what I’ve learned is the easiest way to cement the learning.
“It’s a long day, but the variety in pace makes it manageable. We’re currently learning to script in Python, and how to apply Software Engineering Methods in team working.”
How do you feel this course has benefitted your career thus far?
“I definitely feel like I’ve been able to directly apply some of what I’ve learned in Uni to what I’m doing at work – for example we learned SQL last trimester, and I’ve been able to use that to query and extract data for our reporting.
“I’ve found the most useful thing to be our Reflective Log – one of our modules each year is based on what we are doing at work and as part of that keep a log.
“I have regular meetings with my line manager where we discuss what I’m putting in my log, the challenges I’m facing and the learning I need to do to overcome these.
“This has opened up the opportunity for me to take part in some projects at work where I can apply and develop the skills I’ve learned at Uni and on the job.”
What key skills have you learned on your course?
“Scripting and coding in several programming languages is something I’ve already been able to apply directly at work. Studying as a GA has meant developing a range of skills all at once, from subject specific ones like the programming, to wider things like team working, time management, and even report writing.”
What advice would you give to others considering doing a Graduate Apprenticeship?
“I’d say go for it, but make sure you’ve got a good support structure in place. Both my mentor and my line-manager are completely behind me on this which makes it easier to make that essential link between my work and my study.
“They also encourage/remind me to take time off to rest, which is just as important!”
Learn more about Graduate Apprenticeships
Fully funded Graduate Apprenticeship places are still available at Edinburgh Napier University for the next intake, starting in September, including in Data Science.
For more information on the course, the application process and employer partnership opportunities, visit: www.napier.ac.uk/study-with-us/apprenticeships.