AI experts to support new business skills programme

Experts at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) are supporting a pioneering scheme to help pave the way for how skills programmes are delivered.

The Leicester and Leicestershire Local Skills Improvement Plan (LSIP) pilot will put employers across Leicestershire at the centre of skills provision, building stronger links with local colleges and training providers.


Led by East Midlands Chamber, it is one of eight “trailblazer” areas funded by the Department for Education. LSIPs aim to address concerns that employers do not currently have enough influence over the skills provision offered in their locality and struggle to find staff to fill their skills gaps.

DMU’s AI team will analyse the data coming from daily surveys delivered to companies in three sectors – logistics, manufacturing, and sports and human health.

Businesses will be asked to download a mobile app, which will ask short questions every day. Participants will be asked to answer one or two short questions every weekday for up to four weeks. It should take no longer than a couple of minutes per day.

Information from these quick surveys will be compared with larger data sets to build a real-time picture of what employers need, when they need it – instead of the usual snapshot which can be many months out of date.

“Where this project differs from every other one in the pilot is in its use of artificial intelligence,” explained Dr Mario Gongora, Associate Professor in Computer Software and Informatics, and lead of DMU’s Research in Societal Enhancement (RiSE) team. “We can use the data to learn about the patterns to the gaps, and as it is trained on the data it will also be able to make predictions about future skills gaps.”

Chris Hobson, director of policy and external affairs at East Midlands Chamber, said: “We often hear there is a gap between education providers and employers when it comes to skills provision, and how this places businesses at a disadvantage when it comes to filling vacancies – ultimately holding them back from increasing productivity, growing and in turn creating more jobs.

“Participants will play an integral role in ensuring the future knowledge, skills and behaviour requirements are provided for within Leicestershire.”

The data will be collected throughout the first weeks of 2022 before being used alongside wider datasets to inform the LSIP, which is due to be completed by the end of March 2022.

Chris added: “Our approach is very different to what’s come before and harnesses technology in a way that past approaches haven’t. By trialling data gathering through regular but less intrusive surveys via a mobile phone app, as opposed to the traditional focus groups or one-off in-depth surveys, we hope to be able to get a better and more timely sense of business sentiment around the knowledge, skills and behaviours they deem important, and how these shift over time.

“We’ll be cross-checking this with Department for Education and vacancy data to create a new skills observatory that will identify where mismatches exist and allow us to work with those in education to help bridge those gaps. Through our use of technology and automation, the intention is to develop an approach that is both sustainable and scalable should the pilot be successful.”

People who take part in the pilot will benefit from exclusive access to current data and trends in their sector, while helping to ensure the skills development provision reflects the needs of their business both now and in the future.

The LSIP pilot is part of the Government’s £65m Skills Accelerator programme, which was part of the Skills for Jobs White Paper published in January 2021. It aims to reshape England’s technical skills system to better support the needs of the local market and wider economy.

The East Midlands Chamber-led pilot builds on its successful Knowledge Transfer Partnership with DMU, which seeks to make better use of economic data in the region.

Posted on Thursday 23 December 2021

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