How Education Can Fill The Data Science Skills Gap

Data is driving productivity and innovation throughout all industries and sectors. Take the online retailers we work with at Pivigo who are using data to evolve and provide a more effective store layout, or better service to customers, and targeting millions in additional revenue. In the 2012 Harvard Business Review feature on Big Data, Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson describe the opportunity Big Data provides, and report that “companies in the top third of their industry in the use of data-driven decision making were, on average, 5% more productive and 6% more profitable than their competitors”.

The Skills Gap

In the UK, a report by the Data Skills Taskforce showed that the UK is strongly positioned to benefit from enhancements of data in daily lives. However, despite the increased awareness that data is a valuable asset to businesses, and the government’s continued support for enhanced tech skills, the UK is still not making the most of the potential. In fact, this isn’t unique to the UK, it’s a global issue. A crucial finding from some research conducted by McKinsey found that;

“Turning a world full of data into a data-driven world is an idea that many companies have found difficult to pull off in practice. Our 2011 report estimated the potential for big data and analytics to create value in five specific domains. Revisiting them today shows both uneven progress and a great deal of that value still on the table”.

We believe that promoting data science earlier in the education cycle is a key component of meeting this skills gap.

In a world where we generate data every time we visit a shop or go online, intelligent businesses can quickly turn information into value. Those firms that do utilise the benefits of their data are in the minority. Most have not yet embraced the data revolution. In fact, almost a third of companies work with very limited data sets and rarely use analysis to make decisions. One of the key reasons for this is a data skills gap – there simply aren’t enough qualified data scientists. Business leadership needs to not only embrace a data-first ethos but also do more to fill the data skills gap that facilitates this.

Filling the Skills Gap by Training Tomorrow’s Workforce

Businesses need to set the environment for people with the right skills to succeed. Demand for these skilled workers, especially in technology, is rapidly outstripping supply. Research by IBM highlights that 62 percent of companies will require more big data capabilities between now and 2019 and that by 2030 data analytics will account for the majority of UK digital vacancies. We need to engage with the future workforce more effectively, and at a younger age.

Children and the toys they are playing with are starting to introduce the concept of coding into play, and this year an unprecedented number of school-aged children will learn how to code at some level through school. This early introduction to computer science serves to future-proof the industry and highlights just how relevant these skills will be for tomorrow’s workforce. The Guardian recently reported on the increased computer science courses offered to children, explaining that “the rationale for this rapid curricular renovation is economic. Teaching kids how to code will help them land good jobs, the argument goes. In an era of flat and falling incomes, programming provides a new path to the middle class – a skill so widely demanded that anyone who acquires it can command a livable, even lucrative, wage.” Although we (and IBM) believe this to be an understatement.

The Cost Of Missed Opportunity

The necessity for a large and skilled pool of future workers cannot be underestimated. UK Tech News reported on the significant skill shortage, stating that;

“Some 42% of businesses in the UK have cancelled digital projects in the past two years, on average losing £483,690 per project”.

To counteract these shortfalls, educational advancements are serving to prepare tomorrow’s employees with the most sought-after skills as well as promote cross-curricular learning. SAM Labs CEO, Joachim Horn explained, “Not only are basic coding skills good for preparing kids for the workplace of tomorrow, they can also help to engage students in lessons across the curriculum, including everything from science to art.”

Supporting education in schools are a wide range of apps and toys that are geared towards enhancing coding and ICTR skills of children without the perceived monotony of classroom learning. Tech Advisor promoted a range of the best coding games and toys for children, including inventor kits, robot building sets and computer hardware set-ups. Merging education and fun is no longer a chore and is a lucrative market in itself.

In their commitment to be at the forefront of data science education, the UK plans to embed STEM Education across a wide range of traditional subjects. The hope is that in doing so, educational programmes will highlight how STEM skills can be applied in every aspect of our lives. Sir Michael Tomlinson, Ofsted’s formed Chief exec, explained that,

“Starting STEM development in early years at primary school would help to challenge the current belief among schoolchildren that these subjects were difficult and only led down a specific career path such as “being a scientist”when actually STEM subjects “open up a variety of career options.”

The Future Is Bright

Starting earlier in the educational process is crucial, so it is great to see the high-profile initiative like Teen Tech recognise the importance of data science by including it as a new category in their annual awards. Inspiring enthusiasm in teens and young adults, the Teen Tech Awards is open to 11-16-year-olds and 16-19-year-olds, working in teams of up to 3 with exciting initiatives that challenge students to make life better, simpler safer or more fun using science, technology and engineering. Appealing to a variety of interests, the awards are available in categories including food and transport and promote innovative thinking for the technology of the future.

The Future Is Data

Ensuring a strong workforce of tomorrow means investing in future talent pools today. Starting education in data science, coding and programming from foundation years and continuing throughout the school is key to securing the future for individuals, organisations, and the wider economy.

We firmly believe that by demonstrating the value of data, promoting career opportunities in data science, and developing links between businesses, government and educational establishments; we can deliver a thriving, outward-looking digital economy that drives productivity and economic growth for the UK.

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