Big Data: The Race for Talent

How many vacancies does your business currently have? Finding staff with the right technical skills is getting increasingly harder. As Big Data is now a part of your enterprise, having a data-skilled workforce is vital.

According to statistics from Indeed, compiled for Silicon, the top five hardest to fill vacancies in the tech sector (ranked by percentage of vacancies unfilled after 60 days) are:

  • Senior Software Engineer (45%)
  • Software Architect (45%)
  • DevOps (42%)
  • Systems Engineer (41%)
  • Software Engineer (38%)

What they all have in common is data.

In an era where the businesses must identify tangible patterns in the information, they collect and, use that insight to innovate their services and products, having a workforce that has data analysis skill, has never been more critical.

Speaking to Silicon, Bill Richards, UK Managing Director at Indeed said: “That so many key technology jobs remain unfilled for at least two months says much about conditions for both jobseekers and recruiters. Talented candidates with in-demand tech skills currently enjoy great choice and abundant opportunities, while employers frequently have to be patient – and pay top dollar – to attract people with the specialist skills they need.

“With the UK close to full employment, the pool of available jobseekers is shallow, putting the onus is on would-be recruiters to prize workers away from their existing employer. Offering an attractive salary is the most obvious way to do this, and it stands to reason that salary inflation should be strongest among roles that are already proving hard to fill.”

For all businesses being able to extract the value from the torrents of information pouring into their companies is vital. The key is to understand what your business wants to achieve with the data it is collecting and, match these goals to the skills needed.

Indeed, your enterprise competes for the best talent. Here, a strategic view of the staff needed, designed by HR, in association with potentially multiple departments within your company, would enable you to define what skills a data-centric workforce should contain.

“If you’re a customer-led organisation – as most tech businesses are – drawing up a customer plan is key,” Steve Haighway, COO Europe, IPsoft explained to Silicon. “CTOs and CIOs need to ensure they have the right people who have a good understanding of what the customer journey should look like. Likewise, they should integrate with their long-term revenue plan, organisational plan and training plan so that the skills you already have in-house are continuously being developed.”

Haighway concluded: “There also needs to be a degree of entrepreneurialism: Sometimes CTOs and CIOs will need to take a risk (albeit a controlled risk) to future-proof their business. It’s all about creating a compelling business case which demonstrates to the C-suite where and why investment is needed. For example, if a new role needs to be created or there’s a new coding course that employees should take to keep their skills up-to-date.”

Mind the Big Data gap

There is a clear gap between the tech skills businesses need and, the available talent to fill these vacancies. The UK’s tech industry is experiencing the highest skills shortages for more than a decade, with almost two-thirds of CIOs (64%) reporting a shortfall of talent – which is impacting heavily on the most technology-enabled cities and regions in the country, says Harvey Nash/KPMG in their current CIO survey.

Since 2017, when tech leaders based in London reported the highest scarcity in Big Data analytics skills in the UK (42%), the capital (41% in 2019) has been overtaken by the North West (49%), which now tops the 2019 UK league table for its lack of Big Data analytics specialists. Across the UK Harvey Nash estimates that a further 16,000 Big Data analytics specialists are required to fill this growing skills gap.

Albert Ellis, CEO of Harvey Nash, said: “With technology developing at such a pace, supply just can’t keep up – with the most acute shortages at the top end, in advanced fields such as Big Data analytics, cybersecurity, and AI. It is particularly worrying that Northern tech hubs like Manchester and Leeds have experienced greater rises in skills shortages than London, as these cities are often competing for talent that’s lured to the capital.”

The CIO Survey also found that it’s the big corporates that are feeling the pressure most. Amongst businesses over 50 years old, 68% are facing a talent problem. Larger organisations with budgets over $250m also appear to be the least able to retain their staff for the duration they would like. Only 19% retain key personnel within their technology teams compared to 44% of smaller businesses with budgets of under $50m.

Ellis concluded: “On a positive front, it is encouraging to see how the digital economy is developing outside London. But at the same time, factors that we may have thought unique to London – overheating skills shortages – are also spreading. At some point, all of the UK economy will be a digital economy and the government will need to find ways of spreading the value generated evenly. Across the UK, businesses face a challenge in turning these tech skills shortages around.

“Large corporates, in particular, need to find solutions fast. We are seeing quite a profound generational shift in which Millennials are most interested in innovative projects and learning new skills, more so than in salary and job security. They are looking to work for enterprises that have a clear purpose, and many of them also care deeply about working for a business with strong ethical, environmental and sustainability credentials. As a result, smaller, younger companies are frequently a more attractive proposition to today’s wave of IT talent.”

Data savvy workforces

The importance of having the right data skills across your business can’t be over stressed. Indeed, The World Economic Forum’s Data Science in the New Economy report succinctly states: “The data science skillset is not fixed and is rapidly evolving as new opportunities in data analysis and further technological advances redefine the specific skills composition of data scientist roles. Jobs such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Specialists or Data Scientists, in which data science skills are perhaps most profoundly applicable, are forecasted to be among the most in-demand roles across most industries by 2022.”

Before looking outside of your organisation, often up or reskilling can be a viable option to gain the skills your company needs. “Workforces are becoming more diverse, and there is the presence of up to five generations within an organisation,” says Dr Alison Watson – Undergraduate Business Programme Team Leader, Arden University.

“As such, managers need to be able to identify the training gaps of individuals to tailor development programmes to their needs. Some employees will be more familiar with IT systems hosting the data, while others may have minimal IT awareness. For employers to get the most out of big data, it needs to be understood. Providing training in IT skills, analysing data and manipulating data sets is important to an organisation.”

Big Data is the new oil. Says SAS: “With demand for Big Data specialists forecasts to increase by 160% between 2013 and 2020, adding 346,000 Big Data jobs, hiring and keeping skilled big data refiners could become a costly exercise. Not having the right tools and people could be a barrier to competitive advantage – not to mention economic growth – put upward pressure on big data salaries, and lead to burn-out among the precious big data specialists.”

No two businesses will have the same data skill needs. Simon Utting, iTechnical Director and Co-founder, Amito explained to Silicon how his company approaches the skills gap: “We’re looking for people that can take good logical problem-solving skills and apply those to a range of different environments; it’s about attitude, organisational ability and soft skills.

“As a technical director, I need someone who can learn the technical piece but also communicate confidently with me, their team members, and clients. Looking specifically at the tech side, we expect the trend towards DevOps to continue, with code and websites increasingly deployed in a scripted fashion, as well as a move towards more use of PaaS.”

The skills mix within your business is what ultimately drives profitability via innovation. Dale Stevens, Managing Consultant, La Fosse Associates, pointed out: “When a business transitions to become more data-driven, using data as an asset to drive value requires a set of skills that may not currently exist within the organisation.

“It helps existing employees to adapt, but of course, businesses will always need to recruit. Within a lot of organisations, they will already have the right skillsets available internally – although they may not have explored it yet. So, it’s all about having that balance. Your existing workforce must understand the value of Big Data and begin integrating it into their day-to-day tasks – and fresh talent must be open to it too.”

Big Data will do nothing but expand over the next few years. Managing information to reveal hidden value and, using data to improve service and product development are core competencies, all enterprises will need to develop. The right skills applied via a strategic plan will always deliver profitable long-term business.

Silicon in Focus

Dr. Joe Cainey, Director of Data Science at Peakon

Director of Data Science at Peakon

Dr Joe Cainey leads the data science team at Peakon, and is responsible for developing accurate, insightful and actionable features within the Peakon platform. Prior to Peakon, Joe was Head of Data for a successful telecommunications startup, where he created and grew a data team dealing with billions of sensor measurements each day. Joe also holds a Ph.D. in statistics, and has worked on innovative techniques in Monte Carlo statistical modelling and Bayesian data analysis.

How is Big Data impacting how businesses approach the skills they need across their enterprises?

Increased access to Big Data is allowing businesses to gain greater insight into today’s workforce, highlighting employee trends from across the globe, such as identifying the needs of different generations in the workplace, highlighting an increase in new job titles, mapping in-demand roles and skills shortages. Having access to Big Data enables businesses to apply that knowledge to their own organisations and optimise ways of working.

Benchmarking exercises can have a big impact on how businesses approach various employee experience challenges and skills required within teams today, for example, highlighting the severity of talent shortages and helping to indicate where future investments can be channelled to increase staff retention.

What are the trends in workforce recruitment and management, Big Data is influencing?

Big Data is changing the way managers engage with employees full-stop. We’re seeing a shift in employee attitude and mentality across the globe, whereby people are less inclined to stay in a role they don’t feel aligns with their values or serves their ambitions. There is also a shift in data accessibility. The insights led leadership and democratising of data across organisational levels is becoming more common in today’s workplace. For example, providing managers with insights that they can action empowers them to drive informed decisions, and drive change.

Greater access and availability of technology has created a dynamic for organisations to gather more frequent, detailed feedback from teams in real-time. Big Data enables leaders to understand the health of the business better. With simple to use outlets that offer anonymity, employees are more inclined now than ever before to express honest feedback. Findings from our recent Employee Voice report support this, revealing that the employees are happy to voice thoughts and provide frequent feedback so employers can apply this and action the things that require change, with the belief that those concerns will be addressed appropriately by their employer.

How is Big Data helping workforces become more efficient?

Truly understanding their workforce – what gets employees motivated, what their needs and expectations are, what they’re passionate about, and how they like to work can have a significant impact on workplace productivity and efficiency, which leads to business success. At Peakon, we know that the future belongs to people-forward organisations. Being people-forward means that the success of your people drives your business forward.

Our mission is to prove that when people succeed, business wins, and data can empower businesses to optimise ways of working, so they create an environment where employees feel most productive and efficient. For example, if employees are finding it difficult to concentrate in the office, implementing a work from home policy or ‘offline’ days where they can get work done, could be a solution. Businesses need to understand their workforce to accommodate employees’ needs.

In order to understand these intricacies and address them effectively, employers need insight. A lot of it, and frequently. The more insight, the better the outcome. By asking employees to share anonymous feedback in the right way regularly, employers can gain valuable understanding and make the right changes or introduce new initiatives.

What does the future of Big Data look like from a workforce perspective?

The focus on workforce data will increase as organisations want to better understand the health of their business, and therefore their workforce. We believe that if your employee is successful, your company wins. Big Data will provide businesses with a complete picture of the employee experience, highlighting the gaps and opportunities.

Access to timely and accurate insights will become even more critical, a must-do, not an optional exercise, with even more emphasis on real-time, continuous decision making. Insights led leadership will encourage more informed decisions, and businesses will be able to personalise the employee experience, ultimately, companies will thrive if they start actively listening and empowering their workforce.

David Howell

Dave Howell is a freelance journalist and writer. His work has appeared across the national press and in industry-leading magazines and websites. He specialises in technology and business. Read more about Dave on his website: Nexus Publishing.

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