Building the Pipeline of Future Data Analytics Professionals

Across the course of a year Corinium runs in excess of 20 large conferences for the data analytics community. These events take place across the Americas, in the UK & Europe, across the Asia-Pacific region and in South Africa. In addition to these events we run a series of roundtables where we engage in deeper conversations with senior data analytics leaders. 

These events have a total audience size of over 3,000 professionals representing myriad of industries, geographies and competencies. 

Its because of our wide-ranging research with the global data analytics community that we get a very clear understanding of what the major (global) challenges are in this space. 

The Talent Pool is Shallow

Not a conference goes by that we don’t feature a session, or two, on the skills shortage that exists in the data analytics profession. When I use the term data analytics I include data science in that. 

In every market we operate in there is a general consensus that the talent pool of quality data analytics professionals is shallow. In less mature markets this is more extreme but it’s all relative to the size of the potential employee market. 

Currently, data analytics, and especially pure data science, is limited to a small number of individuals who have the aptitude for the science – whether that be in statistics, applied mathematics, actuarial science and computer science (coding specifically). 

It’s generally agreed that the disciplines above are hard and require a certain type of intelligence to understand and be proficient at. And because of this the number of high school leavers entering university either don’t consider, or don’t meet the requirements for, embarking on a degree program that equips them with the required data analytics skills. 

And compounding this issue is the total lack of awareness around data analytics from a young age. How many kids, when asked what they want to be when they grow up, say a ‘Chief Data Officer’ or ‘Big Data Analyst?’ Not many is the obvious answer. Admittedly very few kids ultimately become super heroes, firefighters or astronauts. But at least they know they exist (including super heroes?) 

Improving the Early Education System

I’ve recently started researching the issue of data talent, particularly in the US, to get a better understanding of what is being done across all levels of education to increase the awareness of data analytics and the development of curricula that develop the required skills from a young age. 

I was pleased to find out, through conversations with some senior data scientists in the UK, that these skills are being developing through ‘Coding Clubs’ at a primary/elementary school level. A few people that I spoke to have kids that are actively engaged in these clubs and are learning very basic coding from a young age. 

This made me think about the future base skills kids will require when they enter the workforce in 10, 15 or 20 years time. For most of our lives the base skills required to enter the job market were the ability to read, the ability to do simple mathematics and, more recently I suppose, computer literacy. 

Will the employees of the future all require a basic level of coding competency? Or an increased level of computer literacy with a focus on data analytics? 

Since the analysis of data is becoming an everyday task surely this will need to be the case. 

Strangely, there seems to be a bit of a gap at high school level in terms of computer science. It seems that it is typically reserved for a certain type of student – the ‘computer nerd.’ I hope that’s not offensive but I think it’s a relatively true assessment…or at least it was in the past. High school is a tough time and if you’re not in the right circles in can be even tougher. So this means that only a small amount of students are gaining the skills that will allow them to register for a computer science based degree at university. 

I should note here that while I talk a lot about gaining skills I think an even more important factor is gaining a genuine interest in data science/computer science. It needs to be promoted as a key skill of the future and it needs to be promoted as something that can be fun and interesting too. 

The problem, in my opinion, is that there just isn’t enough promotion going on of the careers that exist in the data analytics field. What if a CDO, CAO or CDS went to their kid’s school and talked about the very strategic role they have within their businesses? And that it’s on the same level as a CEO, CFO or CMO. Would the idea of becoming the data analytics boss in the future appeal more to kids? 

The Next Step: Tertiary Level Education

There have always been enough undergrad programs at universities that provide the right skills and qualifications for future data analytics professionals…at a technical level mainly. But, this progression seemed to stop at the undergrad level for the most part and students would leave with great technical skills but a very limited set of business skills. 

This is an area that is changing for the better across the world. There are an ever growing number of postgraduate programs in data analytics that are designed to give students/executives a mix of technical and business skills. In the US a number of the top business schools now offer MBAs with a business or advanced analytics focus. You can view the list of the top 25 here

For me this is an extremely critical step in the growth and progression of data analytics as a popular career. It will ensure that those people with the technical skills gain the right mix of business skills to ensure they take the profession out of the ‘IT corner’ and into the boardroom. 

It’s not far fetched to imagine that the majority of future CEOs were one time CDOs or CAOs. Everyone is going to need some level of data analytics understanding but this needs to be married to strong business acumen too. 

The Future is Bright

This is a very brief article on what is a very big subject. I could delve into what is required from a federal government level in most countries to ensure that the education system is geared towards developing future data scientists. I could talk about the private institutions that exist that are doing some excellent work albeit with the typical data science candidate. And you all know of the MOOCs that offer data science skills from ‘Introduction to Python’ right through to more advanced modelling techniques. 

But I’ll save all that for future articles as my research unravels the story in more detail. 

I will say this though – the future of data analytics is bright. There are enough people and institutions out there who are passionate about ensuring the pipeline of data analytics professionals is healthy and growing. 

If 7 and 8 years old are joining coding clubs then I say we’re on the right path. The development has to start from an early age just as learning a 2nd language or multiplication tables has been a part of junior school classes for decades. In the future kids might say ‘I speak English, Spanish and R.’

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Written by Craig Steward:

Craig is Corinium’s Managing Director for EMEA and has spent the last two years researching the data analytics industry and building ground-breaking events in new markets. Craig is currently engaged in a project developing an event that will look at the issue of data talent. Contact him on [email protected]

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