Data volumes are exploding. According to a SINTEF report, more data has been created in the past two years than in the entire history of humanity. Despite the mind-boggling growth of big data, over half of business leaders have challenges finding recruits that understand big data applications. Here, Graham Smith, head of marketing at Microsoft recruitment partner, Curo Talent, explains how industry and education are collaborating to address the big data skills gap.
We have the means to collect and archive data at the push of a button, thanks to an increase in interconnected devices in all industries. Advances in processing technology also allow us to analyse data and visualise it in a way that gives us actionable information.
Unfortunately, the talent entering the industry is not equipped with the skills to keep up with the pace of this technology. In fact, research by Curo Talent revealed IT recruiters said their biggest challenge was competition for talent (26%).
To some extent, Britain’s highly-publicised skills gap is a result of immense growth in the technology sector. It is evolving at an unprecedented pace, but our education system can’t keep up. From the day one generation of IT students graduate, to when they enter the industry, entirely new challenges have developed. Communication protocols have changed, industry terminology has evolved, and new security threats have developed. Frankly, young talent is not prepared to adapt to the pace of the IT industry.
Despite the widening skills gap, the demand for data engineers is not slowing down. According to the industry trade body, TechUK, the call for big data specialists has increased by 243 per cent in the past three years. What’s more, studies suggest that big data could deliver revenue of £216 billion to the UK’s information economy over the next few years. There’s no doubt that work needs to be done to recruit the best talent in this lucrative field.
TechUK, which released an extensive study on the skills shortage, has urged the government to work with the technology industry to close this gap by upskilling, increasing apprenticeships and changing the curriculum. There have been several initiatives launched by government, including a £40 million skills gap investment, announced by Prime Minister Theresa May in January 2018. However, the industry is beginning to take matters into its own hands.
Microsoft, for example, has launched initiatives like Microsoft Education. The scheme encourages the digital transformation of schools by promoting the use of technology in every aspect of education — not just lessons in IT and computing.
But, while schemes like this do improve general IT competence in the next generation, how will this benefit the wider issue of a lack in advanced IT skills?
To answer this question, you need to understand the reputation of IT among young people. The existing ICT course taught in schools has been described by critics as ‘teaching little more than how to use Microsoft Office’. However, in today’s environment, using this kind of software should be an essential skill, like reading, writing or basic numeracy.
Big data, for example, is just one area of computing in which skills are lacking, but studies prove that investing in talent in this area could deliver impressive revenues to the UK’s information economy. By differentiating basic IT competence with more technical computing applications, schools and colleges can support the enablement of students’ capabilities, ensuring that those with exceptional IT talent are championed.