Anyone in any doubt about the rise of the data industry need look no further than a new report by the Royal Society which shows that demand for data scientists and data engineers has more than tripled (up 231%) over five years.
A labour market analysis commissioned for Dynamics reveals that demand for all types of workers grew by 36% over the same period.
But if the UK wants to meet the needs of employers and remain a leading data research nation, it will need to take urgent action in four areas, the report states:
- Ensuring our education system provides all young people with data science knowledge and skills, which will require curriculum change within ten years
- Advancing professional skills and nurturing talent
- Enabling movement and sharing of talent between academia, the public sector and business
- Widening access to data in a well-governed way
From transport to banking to shopping, everyday activities are increasingly leaving digital footprints that are transforming the world of work, the report says, adding that the pervasiveness of data is rewriting the rules of many professions, and employers are increasingly seeking workers who can help them make sense of it.
Professor Andrew Blake, chair of the Royal Society’s working group on data science, said: “Capturing, interpreting and being informed by data can radically transform a business, so it is only natural that employers are catching on to the potential of hiring data experts.
"This report shows the British economy has high demand for people with data skills, particularly at the advanced end of the spectrum, where businesses are crying out for professionals to unlock the potential of new technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence. Demand shows no sign of slowing down, and skill shortages that have plagued the economy for years will only get worse over time." Blake added that addressing Britain’s "chronic supply issues" requires radical action.
"Working as a data expert requires knowing your maths, coding and computer science as well as problem solving, resilience and communication. A-levels do not equip young people with the broad enough range of skills they need for these jobs, let alone the jobs that do not even exist yet, so overhauling the British education system is a priority," Blake warns.
“More needs to be done at universities too, where the intense hiring drives of tech giants increasingly lead to an exodus of researchers seeking better data, more computing power and higher salaries.
More joint university and industry positions could help ensure that talented scientists stay in academia and train future generations to come. Universities may want to think about embracing this joint model for data science and AI, to help secure their AI talent for the future.”
The report analyses the demand for professionals with highly specialised data expertise, which includes roles like data scientists, data engineers, statisticians, biostatisticians, economists and financial quantitative analysts.
British employers posted 27,033 job ads seeking professionals of this calibre between the 12-month period of July 2017 and June 2018, the latest available data. In comparison, employers posted 8,157 job ads in the 12-month period of January to December 2013, meaning demand for this category of data expert grew by 231% in just over five years.
Growth varied considerably across the UK, from 79% in Wales and 112% in the South East to 269% in the North West and 563% in Northern Ireland. The latest available data shows that the average publicly listed salary for these roles is £64,376, up 22% over the same period.
The analysis also looked at the types of skills most frequently required by British employers. The research shows that data science, scripting languages, big data, SQL databases and machine learning are the most frequently needed skills by employers, and increasingly required for data specialists compared to five years ago.
The findings provide more evidence that the nature of work is changing, particularly due to new technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence. To ensure young people leave school with the best possible start, the report calls for curriculum change in schools within the next ten years. This should include the opportunity to study a wide range of subjects to aged 18, and to develop valuable transferable skills such as communication, problem solving, and teamwork – well suited for the interdisciplinary nature of data science.
The report also recommends change at universities, raising concerns that salaries offered by large tech companies could drain teaching talent away from academia. Funding bodies like UKRI could support joint appointments for the UK’s most talented researchers to work in both industry and academia, the report concludes.