Tackling the data skills shortage crisis

By Caroline Koktvedgaard on 11-Dec-2018 10:29:27

The European Commission has warned that 346,000 more data scientists are needed by 2020. Recent research revealed that only 33% of full-time employees in the U.S. are confident in their data literacy. So instead of just hiring more data scientists, why don’t we upskill our workforce? 

People working together

The data skills shortage

Data is now an omnipresent reality of modern life. IBM estimates that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the past two years. By 2018, the number of data scientists needed will exceed 490,000 in the United States alone – but there will be fewer than 200,000 available data scientists to fill these positions. The demand for data scientists is certainly there, but the pipeline can’t keep up.

Research from McKinsey suggests that the gap between leaders and laggards in adopting analytics is growing: Some companies are doing amazing things; some are still struggling with the basics; and some are feeling downright overwhelmed.

Tensions are starting to rise, as mainstream firms fear they can’t keep up with the rapid developments. In a recent study, 79.4% percent of executive decision-makers said they fear disruption and displacement – a number that was 46.6% in 2017.

It seems we are faced with two options: we can fight over our small pool of data scientists, or we can train up our workforce.

 

It’s a people problem

According to new Microsoft research, 41% of business leaders believe they will have to dramatically change the way they work within the next five years – however 51% do not have an AI strategy in place to address those challenges. But what exactly is the issue?

Executives report that the greatest challenges to overcome relate to people – not technology. Companies need people who know how to interpret and use data. However, this is where the challenge lies: a common theme is an overall lack of data confidence across companies. Only 33% of full-time employees in the U.S. are confident in their data literacy.

Similarly, 30% of executives think their biggest obstacle is a failure to understand and appreciate data as a business asset. “This often stems from our own ignorance of what it can be used for,” comments Charles Mindenhall, founder of Blenheim Chalcot.

Amongst CEOs, there can be a hesitancy to really dive into data science. In fact, according to a survey from KPMG, 56% of CEOs are concerned about the integrity of the data they are using for decision-making. They want to be data-driven. However, they don’t fully trust the data upon which they are basing their decisions. “The majority lack confidence in their ability to secure their data,” comments KMPG. “Most say that the quality of their customer data and management information can't be trusted.”

 

Embedding data talent in organisations

While the C-suite certainly needs convincing, we can’t just impose data from the top down. According to McKinsey, to create a competitive advantage, we have to stimulate demand for data capabilities from the roots up: and we need to develop a data culture that moves “beyond specialists and skunkworks”.

Part of the problem is the fact that is that our companies are so siloed: data capabilities are only available to a small team of experts. And commercial thinking isn’t embedded enough amongst data scientists. As data scientists become increasingly integral to all decision-making, they need to better understand how to operate within a business context and become more commercially savvy – so they can demonstrate real business value.

Companies are missing a trick if they aren’t applying data to decision-making. And it’s clear that market leaders are aware of this: Google appointed their first ever Chief Decision Officerearlier this year, and Houston Astros, one of Time’s 50 Genius Companies 2018, named their data analytics department “decision sciences”.

Now more than ever, creating a healthy data culture is becoming increasingly important. To properly address the data skills shortage, we need to take action at every level – not just in the C-suite, or in our data specialist teams.

 

Transforming how entire organizations approach data

To truly tackle data skills shortages, research from McKinsey suggests we need to strike an appropriate balance between acquiring new talent, and transforming our existing teams.

1 in 5 organizations has already changed its approach to attracting and retaining analytics talent. And 63% of companies are providing formal or on-the-job training in-house.

Here at AVADO, we recognize the growing market need. We believe that businesses need to adopt a two-pronged approach: developing business-savvy data scientists, and upskilling the whole organisation’s data capabilities. Which is why we’ve launched a new Data Academy, which aims to transform the way entire organizations approach data.

Our multi-faceted offering can help upskill employees at all levels of the organisation to be more data-confident, and trains data employees to become more commercially-minded, helping them to crack real business problems and demonstrate impact. Many of our academy programs can even be accessed for free, leveraging the apprenticeship levy.

Blenheim Chalcot, the UK’s leading digital venture builder, is an early customer. “We have started seeing real value being added from relatively simple applications of data science in our businesses,” says BC Founder Charles Mindenhall, “and now, we’re setting the scene for more advanced approaches.”

More than 25 graduates from the UK’s top universities will enroll in Blenheim Chalcot’s 18-month Data Science Graduate Programme, powered by AVADO. Here, fresh new talent will develop their skills and put them into practice in the real business context of one of the group’s ventures.

In addition, AVADO will be rolling out our Data Foundations program for 100 of Blenheim Chalcot’s existing employees. This initiative is designed to strengthen relationships between data science and commercial teams, and build confidence in data-driven decision making – across the entire organisation.

“The Data Science Graduate Programme is a significant element in our strategy to capitalise on the opportunities that are out there for our ventures, and we have big ambitions for expanding this in future.” – Kate Newhouse, BC CEO

 

Reaping the rewards of a successful data culture

During their interviews, McKinsey were struck by “the competitive advantage unleashed by a culture that brings data talent, tools, and decision making together.”

Organisations that succeed in establishing a data-driven culture will begin to see that less-technical employees work with and benefit from data, and that their exposure to data improves data literacy. These data-driven cultures experience several major financial benefits – including a 15% growth in revenue and operating margin.

Of course, the opportunity is huge. For a typical Fortune 1000 company, improving data accessibility by just 10% will result in more than $65 million additional net income.

“Any tech company worth its name is now leaping on the bandwagon,” says Charles Mindenhall. With proper training and investment, we believe that people across organisations can grow the ability to act on their innovative ideas, and create real business value through data. 

Keen to know more about the AVADO Data Academy and how we are transforming data skill-sets at organisations? Please fill out the form below and we will be in touch.

 

Caroline Koktvedgaard

Written by Caroline Koktvedgaard

Caroline is an avid writing enthusiast, and currently a Content Manager at Blenheim Chalcot, the UK’s leading tech venture builder. Since completing her degree in English Literature from King's College London, she has gone on to work for Blenheim Chalcot's portfolio of ventures, including AVADO, where she creates digital content as well as thought pieces, blog posts, newsletters, and web copy.

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