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AI and data analytics course offers chance of career change for professionals

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Emma Ward

Coding course attracts record numbers as professionals tool up for digital age

When mother-of-one Emma Ward, pictured above, enrolled in the University of Bradford’s new Applied Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics conversion course last year, she had no experience with the subject.

Twelve months on and she’s writing code using Python and eyeing a career as a software developer in the NHS.

Like many professionals, the pandemic caused her to re-evaluate her career path. She spent five years in the RAF as an environmental health technician, before gaining a degree in biomedical science in 2018 and then passing a PGCE to become a chemistry teacher.

The AI course at Bradford was launched in 2020 with £1.4m funding from the Office for Students, offering up to 60 £10,000 scholarships, with the aim of introducing AI and data analytics to under-represented groups, including women, care leavers, people with disability and those from ethnic or minority backgrounds.

It is a conversion course, so meant for professionals who want to switch careers or expand and update their skillset.

So far, it has been the highest recruiting programme at the University.

“I cannot believe how far I have come,” said the former Open University student. “I’m analysing data for my dissertation using Python and when I started I didn’t even know what that was.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an expert coder by any means, but I am now able to write code and use it to get the information I need for my dissertation. This is what the course has given me.

“AI and data analytics is the future, it’s going to touch everything from medicine to marketing. It’s relevant to all areas of society. I chose the course because it will enable me to take up that role in a medical setting.”

Emma is currently writing a dissertation on the benefits of cognitive gaming for people suffering from glioblastoma (a type of brain cancer) and is also looking forward to a one-year placement within the NHS, as part of the course. 

She added: “I’m a busy mother but I wouldn’t let that put anyone off - the course is designed so that you know what you need to do and when, so it’s more about planning your day. I think the pandemic has meant there is a lot more hybrid working now and that creates more opportunities for people like me to take up new positions.”

Melanie Denyer

Melanie Denyer’s story

Melanie Denyer, pictured above, is a disabled mature student, with a chronic spinal condition. She previously worked as a brand manager for L'Oréal in Paris - she is fluent in both French and German - but has also worked on projects for the likes of Lloyds TSB, as an interpreter for a major public inquiry and even started a gluten-free food business in east London before her health deteriorated.

She opted to retrain because she wants to remain at the cutting edge.

“I have always been a problem solver,” she says. “Marketing is an evidence-based career but when I started, data analysis involved looking through huge paper-based reports. The type, volume and sources of data I’ve used have changed a lot over the years, and I need new skills to keep pace. So, I am shifting career focus slightly but I will still be using data to solve problems, to identify trends and ultimately, to benefit the customer.

“This is a hugely important course for the university to be offering, because these skills can be applied to any industry, whether that is healthcare, fashion, or picking strawberries in a field. It’s about finding new ways to solve some very old problems.”

Melanie added: “Bradford has been exceptionally good at providing support to me as a disabled student. I have a support plan and they have made sure that gets communicated to module leaders - it provides for things like breaks and flexible deadlines - and although most of the course has been taught online during the pandemic, there is nowhere on campus I have not been able to reach.”

John Paul Magadi

John Paul Magadi

John Paul Magadi, pictured above, enrolled on the course to broaden his skillset.

Born in Nairobi, Kenya, he moved to the UK 20 years ago and works as a ‘dashboard developer’, creating user interfaces for complex data sets. 

He said: “I wanted to progress my career. My aim is to become a data scientist, so this gives me a good idea of the skills I need to make that transition. I would recommend this course to anyone who wants to get a grounding in the data analytics arena.”

Skills shortage

Programme leader, Assistant Professor, Dr Kamran Mahroof, a former supply chain and logistics Business improvement coach for Morrisons, said there is a huge shortage of people with AI and data analysis skills.

“Over the next five-to-ten years, we are going to see AI move into many more industries. It is forecasted by the World Economic Forum that there will be a huge skills shortage in the coming years, which is why we launched this course.

“Increased computing power and flexible data storage capacity at affordable prices means as a society, we have never had as much data. What this means is, with relative ease, we can analyse huge amounts of data to identify trends and help make businesses more efficient but this is an applied course, so it goes beyond that - it’s not just about crunching the numbers and looking at the data, it’s more about looking at how we use it in the real world to make key decisions.”

“We welcome students from all backgrounds, in fact, our conversion course aims to upskill students, who have little to no experience in artificial intelligence and data science, therefore playing our part in creating a diverse and talented workforce for the future.”

Applied AI and Data Analytics

The University of Bradford was awarded £1.4m by the Office for Students (OfS), Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to run its new MSc in Applied Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics programme. The funding provides for 60 scholarships, each worth £10,000, to attract graduates underrepresented in the sector.

The course is supported by content from leading industry players including Amazon Web Services (AWS) Academy, UKBlackTech and SAS UK.

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