Government calls for more data scientists in the UK

The government is calling on industry and academia to help produce more data scientists in the UK

The government is calling on industry and academia to help produce more data scientists in the UK.

The growth of big data and the desire for better data analytics across business and the public sector has led to a rapid increase in demand for relevant skills – and a resulting shortage of suitable individuals.

Recruitment firms report growing demand for data scientists, and studies show that the lack of data analytics skills is becoming a boardroom issue.

In a government report released, Seizing the data opportunity - A strategy for UK data capability, the lack of data skills is identified as a major barrier to the UK taking full economic benefit from big data.

“One of the greatest opportunities and challenges facing policymakers today is the ever increasing significance of data. Data underpins our businesses and our economy, providing new insights into consumer needs and enabling new products and services to be developed,” said minister for universities and science David Willetts in the foreword to the report.

“But there are still important steps we need to take to ensure that we are at the forefront of developments in data science and analytics. The challenge of meeting the demand for skilled people, from both industry and academia, is one that is globally recognised. It is a challenge that cannot be tackled by government in isolation, which is why we will work with industry and academia to come up with solutions.”

The report sets out a series of actions to improve the UK’s big data skills base, including:

  • The government will work with employers, [IT sector skills body] e-Skills UK, Nesta [an independent charity that support UK innovation], Universities UK and the Open Data Institute to explore the skills shortages in data analytics and set out clear areas for government and industry collaboration.
  • The government will work with the Information Economy Council and other bodies to bolster the image of data science as a discipline, and illustrate different career pathways in data analytics.
  • Universities UK will review how data analytics skills are taught across different disciplines and assess whether more work is required to further embed these skills across disciplines.

The plan also aims to better promote the UK datacentre market overseas and look at proposal for a national network of centres in big data analytics.

The report was released to coincide with the Open Government Partnership summit taking place in London this week, in which open data is one of the major themes.

Also released alongside the summit is the first National Information Infrastructure (NII) report, which aims to identify and maintain an inventory of public sector data, and determine what data should be classified as part of the NII.

The NII calls on all government departments to identify any unpublished datasets by March 2014, in order to prioritise which should be released as open data.

The government hopes that open data will stimulate innovation for the wider benefit of the UK economy. One of the examples most frequently cited is the public release of transport information that has led to the production of mobile phone apps to help people plan road, rail and bus journeys better.

The UK’s Open Data Institute (ODI) which was created by Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the worldwide web, was set-up with £10m of government funding last year. It aims to encourage public sector bodies to release their data publicly and help startup companies develop the data into commercial products.

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