Filling the void

Laurie Miles, Head of Analytics at SAS UK & Ireland, explains how industry and academia are partnering to close the data skills gap

The explosion of big data has created an unprecedented demand for analytics talent. This surge has created a skills vacuum with around 70,000 additional big data specialists needed over the period 2012-2017 according to research by SAS and e-skills UK. Graduates with analytic skills are finding themselves in high demand. Businesses across a variety of industries – including some of the major banks – are developing programmes to rapidly up-skill recent data science graduates. 

There is an emerging industry and academic effort to arm the next generation with the right skills for tomorrow’s jobs. With the skills appetite growing, data science is slowly coming out from the hidden corners of the Computer Science building. Data analytics is now becoming a mainstream subject for Arts and Management students and analytics modules are working their way into multiple disciplines.

Businesses, as the key benefactors, are also getting involved in an effort to close the skills gap more rapidly. Contributions range from providing expert lecturers and technology, to funding and placement opportunities as businesses work with leading universities across the country.

Queen’s University Management School in Belfast has worked with SAS to add a module to its marketing course, which takes both a theoretical and practical approach to using big data for marketing decision making. Regent’s University in London has also developed a new course in marketing analytics, with its first intake in September 2014. There has already been interest from employers in hiring graduates from this course even though it’s only just started. And there are already plans to launch a part-time version of the course for people already in employment. 

Over the last 15 years SAS has invested nearly £100 million in equipping universities with leading analytics and data mining technologies. SAS University Edition, available to all students and adult learners, offers free use of SAS foundational technologies for data and statistical analysis in teaching, research and self-paced learning. 

This year SAS also launched the first competition to find the UK & Ireland’s top data scientist. Open to everyone, the contest aims to find the candidate who can best demonstrate a breadth of skills in the use of analytics, innovation and data to deliver better insight and make a valuable contribution to their community. Applicants will be testing their mettle on the challenge of affordable energy, modelling the supply and demand for power by the year 2020 in an effort to tackle the UK’s growing energy crisis. 

All of these initiatives are focused on taking the potential of the student community and equipping them with the skills to boost the UK’s competitiveness in the global information economy. Increasingly, employers no longer want to hire people who only have expertise in statistics or IT, but to leverage key skills they have in broad subjects such as marketing and blend in the data science skills.

Employability is always a key concern for students as they approach graduation and its clear that data skills will give graduates an edge in a competitive jobs market. However data analytics skills aren’t just about improving a CV. 

Graduates with data analytics skills have an unprecedented opportunity to shape the businesses and services of the future, but more still needs to be done in schools and universities to develop enough people with the right qualifications to meet the demand.