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TechUK calls on government to close the big data skills gap

IT industry trade body TechUK urges the government to take action against the lack of big data skills in the UK

TechUK has urged the government to work with the IT industry to close the growing skills gap in the big data space.

The industry trade body has estimated that big data could provide the UK with a potential 157,000 extra jobs and £241bn benefit to the economy by 2020.

However, the current rate of growth and the number of big data specialists needed is not being matched by the output of skilled workers.

Jeremy Lilley, programme manager of cloud, big data and analytics at techUK, said: “We need a comprehensive approach that recognises the variety of skills required across the big data supply chain, or else face the possibility of having an unbalanced talent pool that is unable to deliver the services we need, preventing the UK from remaining a world leader in big data.”

Data skills are not the only areas lacking in the UK, with demand for skills in the internet of things (IoT), cyber security and programming also an issue. But the need for big data skills is increasing rapidly, and the number of positions for data scientists in the UK increased by 32% in the first half of 2016 alone.

According to Lilley, the UK is losing around £2bn as a result of unfilled digital roles, and the big data and data analytics space is expected to account for a large number of these vacancies in the future.

More than 60% of TechUK members said they will need more people with big data skills over the next five years, with data analysts, data infrastructure engineers and systems architects growing in demand.

However, each of these roles require slightly different types of skills, and TechUK has warned that the current pace of change means the big data skills gap will not be narrowed in time to cater to the industry’s needs.

TechUK has urged the UK government to partner with the tech industry to close the skills gap through initiatives such as upskilling, increasing apprenticeships and curriculum changes.

It also suggested adding data analyst, data infrastructure engineer and systems architect roles to the government Shortage Occupations List, alongside the recently added data scientist role.

The industry body called for more to be done to promote the value and importance of big data and data analytics. It said that more effort must be made to encourage the uptake of data apprentices, as well as upskill the current workforce.

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In 2014, Computing was introduced into the UK curriculum in an attempt to increase tech skills by requiring children from the ages of five to 16 to learn about coding and computational thinking.

But there has been criticism that the computing curriculum provides a very limited set of skills, as well as a linear way of thinking about technology. As TechUK has highlighted, it is impossible to close the tech skills gap by providing one narrow skills set – and the big data skills gap is a “complex” one.

Lilley said: “The big data supply chain is vast and there are different skills required at different stages of delivering a project. We will never plug the skills gap simply by increasing one specific set of skills.”

“Government must work with industry to help understand, demystify and address the big data skills gap to give the UK the best chance of being a world leading, data driven economy,” he added.

TechUK said programming and analytics should be introduced to schoolchildren at an earlier age during the computing curriculum to help ensure more people with these skills will enter the industry in the future.

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