ENCOURAGING people to pursue a career in data needs to start at school but the sector is also an option for those looking for a change or career, particularly women, says Sam Rhynas, head of operations at Edinburgh-based Stochastic Solutions.

“It is important to think about the education piece with young girls,” she said, “but don’t forget a lot of women who have taken time out for childcare and other reasons may be well suited to working in data analysis and bring a lot of value and enthusiasm.

“We need to look at how to educate people not currently working in data roles to want to move into this area. As businesses, are we doing enough?”

Steven Grier, country manager (Scotland) at Microsoft, described the industry as one “with lots going on and amazing people” but asked: “Do we have enough people skilled in AI? Absolutely not, but at Microsoft we have a thriving apprenticeship programme and the Scottish Government is looking at 
strategies to help.”

Aggreko’s head of head of analytics and BI, Elizabeth Hollinger, added: “It needs to start very early, at school. If you want to study maths and other STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects, you could go on to have a career in data in a wide range of areas – even working for Pixar and creating the next big movie. We also need people with a range of skills from a mix of backgrounds.”

Craig Paterson, of The Data Lab, suggested the sector had to take a “lifelong learning” view and think about “jobs being disrupted”.

However, Professor Crawford Revie from Strathclyde University, said a new Masters degree in AI at his organisation starting next week had attracted 40 people rather than the expected “six to 10”. He suggested this 
interest was down to the wide focus of AI across sectors as diverse as agriculture, fisheries, life sciences and healthcare.

Another key sponsor, Liam Wilson, business development manager at Cathcart Associates, said: “The AI Business Breakfast was a big success, with a great mix of industry experts and aspiring data professionals coming together to listen to the key topics.”

Panel member Martin Sloan, a partner at sponsor Brodies LLP, said: “Privacy, algorithmic bias and reliance placed on the results are just some of the issues that need to be thought about. It’s important organisations carry out a proper risk assessment and understand how decisions are made and the consequences of those decisions.”