Four in five UK firms ‘can’t find data talent’

Business Intelligence

by Joe Curtis| 14 July 2014

Nesta calls for policymakers to address dearth of data skills.

A "severe shortage" of data skills exists in the UK, where 80% of companies are struggling to find the requisite level of expertise, according to a new report.

Innovation grants body Nesta has urged policymakers to take action to develop the skills of data workforce after finding there are not enough skilled workers to meet a growing demand.

The report, 'Model Workers: How leading companies are recruiting and managing their data talent', was released this month, and the research conducted by Nesta and its partners, the Royal Statistical Society and Creative Skillset.

They found that an increasing amount of data, partly driven by the Internet of Things, is fuelling demand for data scientists.

But report co-author and director of creative economy at Nesta, Hasan Bakhshi, added: "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."

The research, based on interviews with 45 people involved in managing or recruiting data talent from a variety of UK companies, found that the problem was worse outside London.

But the report, published on the website of the public body for the technology sector, TechUK, also said that some firms suffered from not understanding what skills a data scientist should have on their CV.

It read: "Some of our interviewees say they struggle to convince their HR departments that data analysis roles are different from IT roles, and end up having to sift through piles of irrelevant applications for those jobs."

However, some firms believe that new tools will replace the need for data analysts by automating such work, while others questioned whether such automation could effectively replace a human who can check for mistakes.

Nesta concluded that its findings "should be a concern for policymakers", as the issue could impact UK firms' ability to compete with other data-driven rivals.

It outlined seven steps to tackle the problem, including developing the existing workforce's data skills, attracting more people to the data analyst profession, ensuring access to overseas talent and establishing closer links between employers and universities to make data courses less theoretical.

"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," said Bakhshi.

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