Inspiring the UK’s Next Generation of Data Scientists
Productivity and growth are now inextricably linked to the ability of organisations to exploit data. Figures from Nesta, a foundation set up to support digital growth, support this contention: Data-driven companies are over 10 percent more productive than those that are not. There is therefore an economic imperative for business, educational institutions and government organisations to work together to inspire the next generation of workers with the opportunities on offer through a career in data science. Doing so will help businesses flourish, while providing young people with the skills needed to prosper in the digital age.
In recognition of this fact, in July 2015 Nesta published Analytic Britain, a policy briefing on exactly how the UK can build an analytically-skilled workforce. The recommendations in the briefing covered the whole talent pipeline, including schools, colleges and universities as well as the labour market and industry. Significantly, following publication of Analytic Britain, the UK Government established a Data Skills Taskforce to help put these recommendations in motion.
So, more than two years on from the publication of Analytic Britain, how are we doing? What progress has been made?
These questions are answered in a new, follow-on report by Accenture and Pearson: Data Skills for the Future: Positioning the UK for success in a Data Driven world. The report identifies a range of successes achieved over the past year: from the stronger teaching of maths and stats in schools and colleges, to a renewed focus on technical skills; from the incorporation of workplace-relevant data analysis skills into qualifications, to an increased focus on quantitative social science training at degree level. The report provides evidence of real gains in the way data science is taught, and how students at school and in higher education are encouraged to further their studies.
The role of business
One of the elements that flow throughout the two reports is the need for business to engage in the data skills issue. There is a clear role for businesses to work with schools and higher education institutions to raise awareness of data science opportunities, and help ensure the skills taught during these educational phases are relevant for the workplace. This is a role that Accenture takes seriously, and we have worked on several initiatives aimed at students of all ages to demonstrate the value of data analysis skills and data science careers.
One example is our partnership with the TeenTech Awards, a programme where UK school students work in teams to address practical challenges set by industry partners. This year, Accenture has launched a new Data Science category for the awards, which recognises the school team that demonstrates the best analysis and use of data. Through the award, we hope to show students the way in which data dictates how, what, when and where to innovate, as well as the fact that data science cuts across all industries. In trying to win the award, students will gain practical, hands-on experience of data science and will, we hope, be inspired to pursue careers in data science.
We're at an important cross-roads for the future prosperity of Britain. We know the skills we need to grow—these are the same skills that the next generation of workers will need for the modern workplace. What’s important is that we build on the momentum gained so far and continue to demonstrate the value of data science right across the talent pipeline. This is a significant piece of work, but one that is fundamental to the ongoing success of UK plc.