Mind the data skills gap: UK businesses warn of a shortage of talent able to transform big data into big value
Four in five of the 45 data-intensive businesses interviewed by Nesta are struggling to find the skills they need to meet growing demand.
The new report, Model Workers, is published today at a seminar at Nesta. The report, part of a collaboration between Nesta, Creative Skillset and The Royal Statistical Society, finds that there is a shortage of data analysts who can transform big data into commercial value. Data scientists – creative workers with a mix of coding skills, statistics and business nous – are particularly hard to come by.
These individuals are increasingly sought in all sectors of the economy. They create value by finding new patterns in data (e.g. to predict faults in jet engines, or identify safety issues in drugs) and building new products and services (e.g. recommendation systems for online shopping and social networking).
Businesses give several reasons for the skills shortage. Interviewees said that candidates lack hands-on experience and the right mix of skills; for example employees might be good with statistics but not coding, or vice versa. The research shows that companies at the early stages of introducing data analysis struggle to evaluate whether job applicants have the right skills.
As a result of this, companies are suffering a ‘crunch’ in the market for data talent, and some are even offshoring their data analysis functions outside of the UK.
Model Workers makes recommendations for policymakers, educators and businesses alike to address the shortages identified in the research; to ensure UK businesses can recruit the talent they need to grow in a data-rich economy.
Areas of action for industry and professional bodies:
· Upskill existing occupations like business analysts, statisticians and programmers
· Build-up the data analyst profession to develop training standards and raise awareness of the value to business of good analysis
Recommendations to educators and policymakers:
· Immigration policy should ensure UK companies can recruit overseas data talent
· Create better links between employers and universities to ensure that what students learn is relevant for their work in industry
· Universities must break down silos between academic subjects to deliver the multi-skilled data talent that industry is after
· In the long term, it is important to strengthen maths education in schools and after-school clubs and to change perceptions of data analysis as ‘boring and dull’.
Model Workers report co-author and director of creative economy at Nesta, Hasan Bakhshi, comments: “Many innovative businesses in the UK today are struggling to find the data talent they need to grow. Urgent action is needed to deal with this data skills crunch, and ensure that ‘data talent’ coming out of UK universities is able to transform data into impacts in industry. In the longer term, it is critical to communicate to young people that some of the most exciting jobs in the UK today are based on working with data – from making games to selling fashion, from understanding TV audiences to discovering new drugs - so that they become the data analysts and entrepreneurs our economy needs to thrive.”
Hetan Shah, executive director of the Royal Statistical Society said, “It's happened. We are now living in a data economy. The UK needs to skill up fast when it comes to data, statistics and analysis, or we will miss the boat.”
Dr Kion Ahadi, head of research and evaluation at Creative Skillset, comments, “This research shows clearly that we have a pressing need to improve the supply of data talent in the UK. This report tells companies, educators and policymakers succinctly what skills the perfect data analyst needs. Without data analysts, UK companies are vulnerable. Analysts give you valuable insights into what is and isn’t working. If a company doesn’t understand (and remember) what mistakes it has made with its websites, campaigns, or mobile apps, it will keep on making those same errors. However, just owning analytics tools isn’t enough. Extracting value from analytics investment requires sufficient skilled staff, well-defined processes, a clear business strategy, and senior leadership support.”
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The report, Model Workers: How leading companies are recruiting and managing their data talent, is available to read here.
The report was based on 45 qualitative interviews undertaken by Nesta and research company IFF between 2013 and 2014. It provides an understanding of the demands and realities of data analysis work in a sample of UK businesses where data plays a strong role in operation and innovation. Survey and financial data from a larger sample of companies to quantify many of the issues identified in this report will be made available later this year.
About Nesta: (www.nesta.org.uk) is the UK's innovation foundation. We help people and organisations bring great ideas to life. We do this by providing investments and grants and mobilising research, networks and skills. We are an independent charity and our work is enabled by an endowment from the National Lottery. Nesta is a registered charity in England and Wales with a company number 7706036 and charity number 1144091. Registered as a charity in Scotland number SC042833. Registered office: 1 Plough Place, London, EC4A 1DE
About Creative Skillset: (www.creativeskillset.org) empowers the Creative Industries to develop skills and talent; we do this by influencing and shaping policy and by securing the vital investment for individuals to become the best in their field and for businesses to grow. As the industry skills body for the Creative Industries, we work across film, television, radio, animation, visual effects, games, fashion, textiles, advertising, marketing communications and publishing.
About The Royal Statistical Society (RSS): (http://www.rss.org.uk/) is one of the world's most distinguished and renowned statistical societies. It is a learned society for statistics, a professional body for statisticians and a charity which promotes statistics, data and evidence for the public good. It was founded in 1834 and was granted a Royal Charter in 1887. The Society has an international membership and is active in a wide range of areas both directly and indirectly relevant to the study and application of statistics.
For all media enquiries please contact Laura Scarrott in Nesta’s press office: [email protected] / 0207 438 2697