Closing the skills gap in data and analytics

A 2022 report by Ernst & Young suggests that, while data centricity is a top priority for businesses, organisations are still having trouble filling such roles due to ineffective upskilling programmes and a shortage of talent.

Here John Salt, co-founder of the UK’s largest dedicated data jobs platform, OnlyDataJobs, explores the real issues behind the skills shortage.

Education institutes hold the key to reducing the skills shortage in data science — the UK’s National Data Strategy outlines the need for the education system to better prepare those leaving school, further education and university for increasingly data-rich lives and careers.

The strategy suggests that foundational data literacy will be required by all in the future and states that universities will take part in a pilot, on a voluntary basis, which involves testing the most effective way to teach these skills to undergraduates — either by offering modules including subjects such as artificial intelligence (AI), cyber and digital skills, or by integrating data skills into other subject areas.

The UK Government also launched new AI and data science conversion courses, which is backed by £24m of funding from government, universities and industry partners. In 2020, there were 2,500 places available, followed by an additional 2,000 in 2021.

There are currently over 100 universities in the UK offering data analytics courses, including the University of Manchester, which offers an MSc in data science, the University of Strathclyde, which has undergraduate and postgraduate courses, and London Metropolitan University, which introduces students to topics such as statistical modelling, data mining and data visualisation in its data analytics MSc degree. However, even institutes with relevant courses face challenges.

A major issue in higher education is recruiting industry-experienced teaching staff with a good understanding of relevant data skills, especially given the pay gap between the corporate and education sectors. In recent years, organisations such as The Bright Initiative have partnered with UK universities, like King’s College London and the University of Oxford, to improve access to leading data technology and teaching, which goes some way in improving this.

Education institutes can also help address the skills gap by encouraging minorities to join relevant courses. Statistics suggest that females make up only 19 per cent of the UK’s tech workforce, and people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds represent just 4 per cent. This is a hugely untapped market, but with scholarships now available through various government initiatives to specifically support applications from diverse backgrounds, we can hope that this percentage increases.

Educational charities can also help with this, in particular by ensuring that undergraduates from less privileged backgrounds can afford to study, and then go on to sustain the best graduate jobs in data and analytics.

Finally, with the world of data science changing every day, new graduates might struggle to find a job role best suited to them. They will likely have trained in a particular programming language or using a certain technology — traditional jobs boards might not have the specific search functions required to find the roles best suited to their skill set.

In comparison, OnlyDataJobs allows job seekers to search for their next role by technology or programming language, such as Python, SQL, Azure or Java. In fact, there are over 70 different technologies or programmes that the user can filter by.  It also takes into account the growing requirement for remote roles, and other skills of the candidate, such as additional languages spoken.

OnlyDataJobs has over 12,500 active roles in data and analytics, many of which are graduate level.