According to Robin Huggins, director of academy and client services at MBN Solutions, organisations that have an analytics function in the UK have to do two things. They have to grow their own data talent, and make sure there is the most welcoming environment possible for incoming talent. He is helping them do the former through MBN Academy, one branch of the MBN Solutions recruitment consultancy.
He said that right now the UK is one of the best countries in the world for data driven companies. “The facts attest to that in terms of the number of organisations who have an HQ or analytics function in the UK,” said Huggins. However, work does have to be done to improve the flow of data talent from universities to corporations. The MBN Academy works towards this by helping commercial data organisations to create links with academic institutions, and therefore be more visible to the graduate population.
Huggins stated: “We’re encouraging organisations to kick down the walls that exist between the commercial and academic worlds. We know there are great collaborations going on all over the country but there’s not enough of them.”
He would like to see more collaborations like the one between MBN Academy and the Data Lab, a Scottish innovation centre that supports commercial and public-sector organisations, and universities looking to capitalise on data science opportunities.
"Many businesses have secured top data talent from involvement with the programme."
In 2016 and 2017, MBN got involved with the Data Lab’s MSc Placement programme. “We worked with a huge variety of businesses throughout Scotland and placed over 100 data science students with them. Everyone one of those businesses now has a direct link to the university the student came from, and many have now secured top data talent as a result of involvement with the programme” said Huggins.
The second strand of MBN Academy’s activities is to equip the students with the skills they need and involves giving guidance and advice to graduates who might consider working in the data industry.
The students are given information such as how to properly construct a CV and how to research for an interview, drawing on Huggins’ experience in talent, recruitment and HR in the data space.
The MBN Academy came into being around five years ago, originally designed as an internal learning and development function. University outreach activities began following an encounter between Huggins and James Morgan, head of information strategy and management at Sainsbury’s who at the time was head of management information and analytics at Centrica. They met at a DataIQ event and talked about the data skills gap and ways to engage and encourage new graduates to consider a career in analytics.
Subsequently, Huggins and Morgan visited the University of Oxford where they identified a group of students who they felt would enjoy a career in data. “We spent half a day talking to them. James spoke about the jobs he’d done in his career, what he looked for in graduates, what data careers were available within the organisation and what the future might look like for people who joined the business as analysts. And I spoke about employability, market trends, career paths and reward expectations” said Huggins.
The ball continued rolling when Sanjeevan Bala, head of data science at Channel 4, already heavily invested in nurturing graduate data talent, joined Huggins on a similar trip to the University of Cambridge. Since then, Huggins has visited a large number of universities up and down the country.
Huggins said that over the last 20 years, the rise in data-driven decisioning has been incredible so more and more UK organisations need talented graduates with an aptitude for data. He said he sees the only sensible step is to funnel smart graduates from a variety of disciplines who have the propensity to be data-savvy into UK data and analytics companies.
"We have amazing academic institutions producing amazing students."
He said: “We have some amazing academic institutions up and down this country producing amazing students. We need to just ensure that the pathway between graduation and career is a very simple, easy-to-navigate pathway and not to put up unnecessary barriers or hurdles.”