Crunch time: Government must act to ensure the UK has data skills to remain world leading

Across the world, we are generating data at an unprecedented rate  - this fuels the fires of business, and, as we know from work at Nesta, many parts of Government are getting better at extracting insight from this data too.

Not only do we see increasing efficiency of commercial and public services as a result, but this also creates the perfect conditions for innovation and experimentation.

From changes in how we shop, communicate and meet, to the clothes we wear and the gadgets we use, behind the scenes increasingly sophisticated AI and machine learning technologies are being used to analyse and act on our behaviours as consumers.

But … in order to capitalise on the potential benefits of AI and machine learning in this analytical process, the UK will require data skills

We know that not all companies are converts when it comes to the value of data to drive decision making in their organisations - in our report, Skills of the Datavores - we called these unbelievers 'Dataphobes'.

However, many companies did realise the value of data science for their organisation, and it’s likely that this number will continue to grow.

The landscape has changed significantly since we published that report, helped partly by Analytic Britain, the policy report that we put together with colleagues at Universities UK.

Analytic Britain made a series of recommendations spanning the data skills pipeline - from schools to colleges, and higher education to industry.  As a result of one of our recommendations The Data Skills Taskforce was established. It’s a cross cutting, industry led group, working with industry, government and third sector organisations to ensure that we are better placed to meet the UK’s data skills needs.

The taskforce, which has been actively convening the key players in the data skills space over the last 12 months, focuses on putting Analytic Britain interventions into practice.

Of course, people remain a fundamental part of the analytical machine in data intensive organisations - developing data architectures, new analytical methods, and communicating findings.

Many UK companies are finding it difficult to recruit the right people for data science and AI jobs

By and large, the problem is finding people with the right mix of skills: the data scientists who combine technical skills, analytical and industry knowledge, and the business sense and soft skills to turn data into value for employers, are very hard to find – so much so that some people refer to them as ‘unicorns’.

Positive sounds have been made by Government in recent weeks. In the Digital Strategy, for example, the Government makes a commitment to working with the Data Skills Taskforce to help implement key elements of Analytic Britain.

As a forthcoming briefing from Nesta (which will follow up on Analytic Britain) will show, this Government support is as timely as ever, given that the UK continues to face a number of challenges when securing the right skills for an increasingly data driven economy.

It’s crunch time for UK data skills. Government and industry must move now to ensure that the UK has the skills to remain a world leader when it comes to cutting edge data innovation.


George Windsor

George Windsor

George Windsor

Senior Policy Researcher

George was a Senior Policy Researcher in the Creative and Digital Economy team.

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