An award-winning graduate programme launched at the height of the pandemic to tackle a national data and artificial intelligence (AI) skills shortage, has been heralded as setting the example for how Wales can create stronger employability and development offerings.
The Fast Track Data/AI graduate Programme is a partnership between leading Welsh businesses and academics led by the Welsh Contact Centre Forum. Speaking at the event to welcome the second intake of graduates to join the Programme, Minister for Economy, Vaughan Gething, credited the partnership’s success in supporting the growth of Wales’ technology sector.
Today, businesses operating in every sector across the globe have recognised the necessity of unlocking the potential of big data and artificial intelligence (AI). Wales and the wider UK are no exception, with many experts highlighting the fact that recruitment demand far outstrips supply of individuals with those specific expert skillsets.
In its first year, the Data/AI Programme enabled 100% of its graduates to secure permanent roles in data science and analytics, with the majority remaining in Wales to accelerate the ability for businesses in multiple industries to harness the power of data.
The Programme’s successes have been made possible thanks to part-funding received from the European Social Fund through the Welsh Government. With that funding set to end in 2023, the Welsh Contact Centre Forum is exploring options to ensure the Programme can continue to serve employers and graduates.
This year’s cohort will see 14 graduates take part in the Programme’s bespoke two-week bootcamp before starting their careers with some of Wales’ most recognisable brands, including Admiral, Atradius, Empirysis, Principality Building Society, Hodge Bank, Opel Vauxhall Finance, Pepper Money and sa.global.
Welcoming the latest graduates to join the Programme, Minster for Economy, Vaughan Gething, said: “This Programme provides a unique opportunity to accelerate your development and provide you with the tools that you will need to succeed in a post-pandemic world, adapting to ever evolving workplaces and work environments.
“Unique to Wales, this industry led collaboration between businesses and university partners means this Programme is also supporting our technology sector, allowing and helping it to continue to thrive and grow.
“Supporting young people to unlock their potential, develop the skills and experience that they will need to improve their career prospects as well as nurturing the talent here in Wales is essential for our country’s economic growth and future competitiveness.
“The Fast Track Programme is a superb example of these aims, and we will look to its approach and achievements as we develop our own plans for a stronger employability and skills offer, here in Wales.”
In addition to gaining access to individuals who can apply the latest knowledge in AI & data to their companies, partner employers also benefit from the full support of the Programme’s expert team and wider network within the financial services and data industry.
The Programme has also been recognised by the judges of the Fintech Awards Wales, who in 2021 presented the Welsh Contact Centre Forum with the award for Best Academic Programme Supporting FinTech and Financial Service Companies.
Building on its success, the Programme has now been extended to a ten-month curriculum to allow graduates to deeper embed themselves into the teams of the employers they have been matched with.
In addition to starting their careers with leading employers, the Programme also ensures its graduates stay at the forefront of developments in AI, data analytics, and emerging technologies, via a bespoke post-graduate diploma delivered by the University of South Wales.
Sandra Busby, Managing Director of the Welsh Contact Centre Forum, said: “The importance of recruiting the very best talent is not a new challenge for businesses. But, with nationwide competition intensifying between businesses seeking to staff their data workforces, the necessity for Wales to retain those with specialist training and skills has never been greater.
“This Programme exists to ensure Welsh businesses have the ability to meet today’s unprecedented demand. By bringing together our employer partners with academic experts from the University of South Wales, we have been able to create a programme that responds to employers’ specific needs and allow them to recruit from a handpicked STEM graduate talent pool. The fact that the European funding will no longer be available from 2023 is a concern. And as the Programme’s lead, we are actively exploring options to protect and ensure this invaluable resource remains available to Welsh businesses.
“Crucially, we must safeguard the close connections with educators and graduates that allow us to introduce new talents emerging from Welsh universities to discover the career opportunities that exist on their doorstep, to ensure Wales retains its best and brightest.”