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UK government commits £1.1 billion to upskilling workforce in emerging technologies

The UK government has announced the package will be used to upskill and train individuals in tech including artificial intelligence and quantum.

By Lauren Hurrell

The UK government has allocated a £1.1 billion package to upskill thousands in technology such as artificial intelligence (AI). The funding will be used to train people to gain qualifications to boost key industries such as quantum computing, medicine and 6G. 

The ambition is to close the UK tech skills gap, placing it at the helm of tech innovation with a highly skilled and well-trained workforce. The £1.1bn package from the government, business, charities and academia will aim to train more than 4000 UK students.

The UK government’s aim to harness the capabilities of AI which it sees potentially contributing a 10.3% increase to UK GDP by 2030. (Photo by Syda Productions via Shutterstock)

“By doubling down on our investments in skills and backing British business, we can lay the foundations for an economy fit for the future – an economy that creates jobs and improves lives for communities up and down the country,” said Michelle Donelan, Science and Technology Secretary, who announced the package at this week’s Maths Summit in London. “That is how we make our science and tech superpower mission a success.”

Upskilling the UK’s tech workforce

The UK government will be prioritising training outside the south-east of England in the 65 centres for doctoral training. These CDTs are spread across the UK with a focus on building skills hubs beyond the south-east, such as in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Bristol, Manchester and Sheffield.

One such centre, at the University of Bristol, is working on the development of new drugs, including antibiotics and cancer treatments, by taking advantage of advancements in digital chemistry, such as artificial intelligence. Other initiatives aim to support engineering biology, semiconductors, quantum technologies, and future telecoms, which the government sees as critical areas for the UK’s growth.

“Adopting the latest cutting-edge technology will allow us to deliver faster, simpler, and fairer care for patients,” said Health and Social Care Secretary Victoria Atkins, who highlighted AI as a “central part” of the announced plan to boost productivity in the NHS, which will “deliver quicker test results, replace outdated IT systems, and unlock £35 billion in savings”.

Investing in the UK’s quantum workforce

A further investment of more than £60 million has also been allocated to new quantum skills programmes running until 2034. This investment includes £14 million for 100 quantum PhD studentships in UK universities plus another £14 million to fund early career researchers, through a competition that runs from now until 10 April. £4 million has been set aside for the creation of apprenticeship pathways into quantum through a pilot scheme while ensuring those from a range of educational backgrounds can enter the quantum workforce, with hopes this will drive innovation in developing new drugs and materials, machine learning, better diagnosis and treatment of diseases, while boosting economic growth and security.

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Professor Sheila Rowan, Chair of the Quantum Skills Taskforce, welcomed the investments to invest in upskilling and career opportunities in tech. More than doubling the number of quantum Centres for Doctoral Training demonstrates the UK’s long-term commitment to quantum technologies” she said. “Developing these skills will be vital to achieve the UK’s ambitious goal of becoming a leading quantum-enabled economy, and unlocking the economic potential offered by quantum technologies.”

Developing skills and long-term careers

Other efforts that were announced involved a $4.5 million medicine manufacturing skills centre of excellence at the University of Birmingham and a newly launched competition to find a delivery partner in March for the £3 million Science & Technology Venture Capital Fellowship Programme. The scheme aims to draw in investors who can deliver groundbreaking work in vaccines, AI and robotics. The package will also see a new Future Telecomes Skills Taskforce with stakeholders from academia, industry and government to monitor the skills training for a connected future and drive more people into digital careers.

The Science and Technology Secretary has issued a call to action for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the Professional and Business Services sector to sign up for the pilot scheme, which aims to help SMEs to gain AI skills, ahead of the application process which opens in May.

This package comes as part of the UK government’s aim to harness the capabilities of AI which it sees potentially contributing a 10.3% increase to UK GDP by 2030.

Read more: Quantum computing has a looming skills gap

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