ManagementSkills

Fixing The Big Data Skills Shortage Problem

Duncan MacRae is former editor and now a contributor to TechWeekEurope. He previously edited Computer Business Review's print/digital magazines and CBR Online, as well as Arabian Computer News in the UAE.

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Jez Clark, director at data and analytics recruitment firm, Eden Smith, explains how to address the skills shortage in the data science sector

To what extent do you think there’s a data science skills shortage?

There’s always a skills shortage where there’s a new technology, new discipline or new way of working. Big data’s not new. It’s been around for a long time. It’s been around for about 10 years in Silicon Valley, mainstream over here for about five years, quite a few companies are already utilising it, it’s working for them and they’re reaping the benefits.

jez-eden-smithAbout 40 per cent are going into cloud, using security software etc but with data analytics there’s a certain element of that, certainly within the data science space, that’s a brand new skill set. It might not be new to some but in the market, when it’s imperative to have it if you want to reap the benefits of your data, there’s nobody out there really.

The approach to this market has to be different. You can’t be a generalist recruitment company applying the same approach to the market where there’s such a shortage.

I think the only way we can do it effectively is to partner up with other businesses, collaborate closely with data science training academies – this is just for data science, mind you, not for the other disciplines – and partner with data and analytics consulting businesses.

We also need to make sure we’re educating and talking to the customers about what is actually available, where it is and what they have to do in order to be attractive.

What should companies be doing to attract people with the skills they need?

There are a couple of different methods, depending on what the business drivers are. You have big businesses like BT that have a ‘no redundancy’ policy.

They are retraining. Smart companies need to look at the existing skills that they’ve got and where they can be transferred. When you look at things like open source software – Linux administration, for example – that’s a good place to start moving someone into an engineering type of position in DevOps.

With data science, the requirement is for someone to be a statistician, also with programming skills and they have to be commercially savvy. Try to put those three things together and it’s almost impossible. So look at the skills you’ve already got and then try to see where you can start to retrain with a view of solving the problem of recruitment in two years’ time. That’s better than going out to market with unrealistic expectations with regards to what you’re going to get.

Do you think that colleges and universities are giving students the right skills or not?

That’s a big question and one I’m probably not qualified to answer but I think it’s clear to say that they’re now focusing on analytics. There’s a heavier focus on data analytics than there ever has been.

What kind of communication do you have with students regarding what they’re interested in?

data centreThe data science academies we partner with are communicating with them on a daily basis. What we have to be mindful of is the sexiness of the market and how long it stays sexy for. That will help us to understand whether or not people will be attracted to working in it. It’s a new thing one minute, then the next people might not be too bothered by it. It’s quite a challenge.

In IT, what kind of skills are in demand the most?

Cybersecurity and data analytics seem to be the leading markets at the moment where there’s big demand. A lot of it is driven by regulation, implementation of policies and procedures. Obviously companies such as large financial institutions need to keep their data secure but there’s also a big data element.

Do you think the industry is making headway with the IT skills shortage?

I don’t think we’ll be having the same conversation in 10 years’ time. I think we’re only really just pushing it right now, as far as looking at how we’re going to address the lack of talent in two or three years. The awareness is there now and it will only grow stronger. But it’s all about partnering and working with the right businesses that are actually in touch with the market.

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