Written evidence submitted by Consumer Data Research Centre

Dear Committee,

Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC), and its parent organisation, the Leeds Institute for Data Analytics (LIDA), at the University of Leeds create opportunities for upskilling with a direct pipeline into the workforce. Our opportunities are targeted at adult learners and career changers. We deliver our skills development and training through our Data Scientist Development Programme (DSDP), our short-course training offer, and our Data Analytics and Society Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT). Although our CDT is aimed at learners at level 6 or above, our short-course training offer caters to adult learners at lower levels, including learners already in industry who may not have degree-level qualifications.

The training provided through CDRC is effective due to our relationship with industry and other stakeholders. Our training uses real-world data in real-world contexts to allow real-world impacts. One of the key recommendations from the Government’s white paper, Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity and Growth (21 January 2021) was to involve employers directly in the selection and design of Further Education (FE) programmes. Our training opportunities are co-designed and co-delivered, and often co-funded, with our external partners, thus directly embedding data skills within the UK workforce. Our training also models a financial framework of upskilling beyond incentivisation provided by the Lifelong Loan Entitlement (as set out in the Skills and Post-16 Education Act 2022). We do this by drawing on industry expertise and focusing on local and national strategic priorities. This includes developing research projects on our DSDP that are funded by industry or local organisations, and which address local and regional areas of strategic need. This allows us to feed into local skills improvement plans, which offer opportunities for us to contribute to local priorities alongside industry, business, and FE providers. 

Our training opportunities prioritise upskilling the UK data workforce, one of the four pillars of the UK Government National Data Strategy (2020). This means our adult training programmes provide skills of strategic value to the UK’s data workforce, as well as fits the Government’s understanding of workforce skills needs as set out in the ‘Developing workforce skills for a strong economy report’ produced by the Department for Education and the National Audit Office. The priorities and directions of our learning opportunities are set by our external stakeholders, including industry, which allows us to demonstrate powerful value for money and a clear pipeline from learner to employee.

Significantly, CDRC have also implemented a raft of recruitment objectives and funding revenues that have opened up our skills training to hard-to-reach groups. By recruiting using positive action plans and providing training bursaries to adult learners with protected characteristics and/or from low-income backgrounds, we can build skills and diversity simultaneously. This allows our research centre to grow in line with recommendations set out in the UK AI Roadmap (2021): to invest in and ensure that underrepresented groups are given equal opportunity and included in all data science learning programs. Diversifying the data workforce, as well as the data it uses, will provide more equitable employment outcomes and deliver on the Government’s AI strategy to deliver a 10% increase in UK GDP by 2030, in line with further Levelling Up objectives.

The evidence of our successful training interventions are set out below in three sections. The first provides evidence of our skills and learners. The second section focuses on meeting the demands of learners, employers, and society. Our final section re-emphasises where our training opportunities sit in national strategic objectives, and demonstrates the value and recognition our training programmes have in delivering on these objectives.


1)     Types of skills, types of learners, types of collaborators

Skills and Cohorts

The Data Science Development Programme (DSDP) has acted as a springboard into industry and public sector data science since 2016.

The programme allows University-led research insights to be shared with project partners beyond academia, while ensuring that academic research is co-designed in close collaboration with the partner organisation and their bespoke needs. The DSDP supports projects with partners who do not have either the time or data science resource in their own organisation to dedicate to the data challenge at hand. Simon Leech, data scientist in 2020-21, led a project called Local Data Spaces, designed to help over-stretched local authorities solve pandemic-related research questions. The project helped determine the optimal locations for COVID-19 testing sites in Liverpool, based on analyses of geodemographic factors affecting susceptibility to the virus. The project team also produced geodata packs in consultation with 14 local councils to be used in the COVID-19 relief effort. As these projects bring together academic expertise and industry needs, this has led to In addition to data science skills, the programme delivers a series of training sessions on “alpha skills” training such as resilience-building, failing well, understanding data gaps and bias, working with partners, and how to deliver impact. This means that each cohort is robustly prepared for the world of work.

The CDRC short course training programme teaches a variety of data analytics skills across a variety of skill levels.

The diversity of the skill level, as well as the variety of organisations that attend CDRC training courses demonstrates that our training provision meets a clear skill demand across seniority levels and sectors.

The CDRC CDT works closely with external collaborators to build a PhD programme that allows students both to develop essential data science skills and to answer real-world questions. Alumni from our PhD programme piloted partnerships with UK retailers, which have now become commonplace in the CDT. Other students on the programme have worked with local authorities, credit reporting agencies, and government agencies. One member of our CDT was also seconded into Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in order to provide data science expertise in policy implementation. This focus on partnerships as part of the PhD programme allows students to build cross-sectoral skills and expertise that can be used in either academic or industry settings.


Levelling up and disadvantaged learners

As a result of a positive action recruitment drive, the DSDP actively cultivated a 33% increase in BME employees in 2021-22, in contrast with only 4% black people employed on the Programme 2016-2020.

This positive action scheme was a pilot for the University of Leeds, and was developed in collaboration with Health Data Research UK’s (HDR UK) Black Internship Programme to create a positive action case for recruitment of underrepresented groups in data science. In the recruitment for the 2022-23 DSDP, the numbers of BME appointees rose to 50% in partnership with ESRC’s Vulnerability & Policing Futures Research Centre (VPRC).

There was also an increase in women data scientists on the DSDP to 50%.

The DSDP purposely employs a diverse cohort of graduates from all levels (BSc to PhD) as well as career changers each year. The cohort is also built from a range of disciplines, including learners with backgrounds in both quantitative and qualitative research, because we know that building cohorts in this way encourages diverse perspectives, innovation, and challenges individual biases.


2)     Meeting the demands of learners, employers, and society

Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion

Our positive action recruitment drive has enabled greater representation in the data scientists we employ, which we know will be integral to delivering a more diverse workforce. However, increasing researcher diversity has led to a transformation in how our researchers approach skill development. This is because greater diversity in researchers leads to more representative and equitable research practices, which means better data science and insights. For example, data scientist Ifeanyi Chukwu’s work on the Impact of COVID-19 on Cancer Referrals, concluded that considering geodemographic contexts “helps to identify the segments of patients who were most vulnerable and thus may require more attention in receiving faster cancer referrals and improved prognosis.” You can read more about how increasing diversity has built a more resilient research programme and skills training in our Strength in Diversity case study.

The focus on “alpha skills” in the DSDP also builds resilience during a period of change and uncertainty in the UK workforce. In the wake of the pandemic, there has been a marked increase in the need to build wellbeing and resilience training into the induction and ongoing pastoral support provided to the data scientists on the DSDP. The overwhelming participation of millennials and Generation Z in the post- pandemic ‘Great Resignation’ has been widely reported on (cf. Business Insider), and is a shared concern for all as it affects retention of early career talent. Katy Wills’s article in the Evening Standard in January 2022 cited as a major contributing factor the fact that, “The pandemic has made people reassess their priorities, and many are feeling overworked, undervalued and burnt out.” Investing in resilience training and support for mental health and wellbeing is a key route to retention because employees feel valued and seen. These are therefore skills of economic value.

In recognition of the AI Roadmap’s commitment to deliberately levelling the playing field to maximise skill training opportunities for diverse learners, and based on the Centre’s own successes in positive action recruitment, CDRC have developed an Open Data Science Bursary to make our short course training more accessible across communities. This is for learners with protected characteristics and/or from low income backgrounds. Because of complex socio-economic factors such as location, recession, and access to support, there is a growing gap between those with access and resource to pay for learning and those without. This is particularly relevant in a time of economic uncertainty, and where skills such as data science are of high economic value to the workforce. This scheme is specifically designed to give learners with protected characteristics and those from low-income backgrounds access to be able to upskill at no cost to themselves using CDRC training courses. This will in turn provide greater employment opportunities for learners as well as diversify the data workforce.


3)     Underpinning strategies and motivations

As discussed in the introduction to this response, many CDRC training objectives align with those proposed in the AI Roadmap and UK Government National Data Strategy. Broadly speaking these are to invest in:

  1. Working closely with external stakeholders to develop skills training;
  2. Building cohorts of learners that are diverse and representative; and
  3. Focusing on skills that are of economic value.

This third section provides further and final information on the ethos and attitudes that underpin our skills training provision.


Values-led training

We have seen on the DSDP that those in minority groups bring a uniquely valuable perspective in data science precisely because they often fall into the “data gap”. This is widely recognised as bias within data, or missing data, that disadvantages or does not adequately represent those from minority groups. It can include racial bias, gender bias, colonised data or simply an absence of data resulting in a bias against a minority group. (The Royal Statistical Society and ONS ran an event to explore this topic in 2020 within the context of the pandemic; see also the Mind the Gap article by lecturers from Imperial College London.) Opening up recruitment opportunities and actively making our Programme more inclusive has already improved LIDA data scientists’ understanding of the nuances within data and as a result the quality of their data science. The mission for the DSDP is to lead “data science for public good”. This also means modelling a practice of data science that also serves a public good.

Retention of talent

Although many of the data scientists on our DSDP have gone on to industry or further study, the culture built in CDRC and LIDA has also enabled many former data scientists to build careers within the organisation that provided those skills. 12 DSDP data scientists have been retained within the University of Leeds or in active partnerships with the University. This has provided a return on investment and a growth of our own organisation: the more we invest in the talent and resilience of our workforce, trainees and PGRs, the more likely we are to see them returning this investment by successfully assuming roles within our own or our partners’ organisations.

Recognition and Rewards

The approach we take to opening up both data science research and training has enabled us to build a cross-sectoral good reputation. The CDRC itself won the Open Research and Impact award at the University’s inaugural Research Culture Awards. Additionally, the LIDA Data Scientist Development Programme won in the Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion category for its positive action recruitment drive. Nominations to these awards were reviewed by a panel of experts beyond the University, which demonstrates sector-leading best practice. We know that our CPD-accredited short course data science skills training has likewise been commended outside of the academic sector (you can read endorsements of our training offer from NHS Digital here).


The team at LIDA and CDRC understand that the Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity and Growth white paper reorientates the provision of skill-building opportunities towards employers, as well as broader society through the creation of a new national system of standards. However, as the evidence set out here demonstrates, small, values-focused training provisions led by universities play a pivotal role in diversifying skill sets and learners and in preparing them for the workforce. We know that this leads to increased capacity within the workforce itself, and our particular attention to economically valuable skills – both data science skills and “alpha skills” – means we meet and exceed a raft of Government recommendations regarding data and AI.

Representatives of CDRC and LIDA are happy to answer any and all questions the Committee might have about what is raised in this response or elsewhere. Please contact Dr Emily Ennis, Research and Impact Manager in the first instance.

October 2022