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20 November 2020

Addressing the skills shortage in data science and analytics

By Emmanuel Osanga, Head, Data Office, Africa Regions

Fuelled by digital expansion and the use of new-age technologies across all industries, the demand for data science skills has grown rapidly. The supply of skilled applicants, however, is increasing at a pace that fails to match demand, and which has accelerated under the new normal.

In financial services, where significant investments are being made to enhance customer experience and engagement through new digital capabilities, more data than ever is being generated. In this context, data scientists are crucial to turning significant datasets into useful insights.

This type of future skill has been in high demand over the past few years as enterprises expand their digital footprints. Now, almost everyone has upped the ante on their digital transformation efforts in the current environment, and this means an even greater gap to be filled.

A sooner-than-expected reality

If we rewind 10 or 20 years, few would have thought about technological advancements such as Artificial Intelligence and the volume of data that could be achieved at the scale we are seeing today.

Many legacy organisations lacked planning intensity because it did not seem like a potential reality in a scenario outcome at the time. The speed at which digital advancement has taken place in recent years, and in the past few months specifically, caught many by surprise.

This left companies in a position of unpreparedness and fast-tracked the demand for the type of skills that can turn datasets into action. IBM projected in 2019 that there would be around 30% growth in demand for the data science capability in 2020 itself. This prediction is expected to escalate due to Covid-19 leading digital transformation.

While skills supply in the Science Technology Engineering and Maths has been on a heavy uptick as alternative ways of producing data scientists become available, the world is battling an under-supply and over-demand of data science human capital.

It is, however, one of the key skillsets of the future that companies will have to prepare for. But for organisations to yield appropriate quality skills, there must be investment in mastery programmes that cover the full scope of what is required to close the gap.

Data science: A multi-faceted skill

Data science is a multi-faceted skill that is not learnt overnight. Few universities, academies and online courses are bringing it into application. While they cover the theoretical aspects, it is the business domain knowledge across multiple industries that  will produce the desired output.

This is a key component of what is required to be a true data scientist. No amount of technical or theoretical training in data science will solve business challenges. It is the business acumen and competence, combined with access to mentorship and  on-the-ground experience, that creates the magic.

It is also about matching individuals within academies with the right type of mentality, curiosity, and inspiration – and showing them what they can achieve by leveraging data. Many tend to think about it as statistics, maths, and complexity. The truth of the matter is that those who are most successful in this area are inspired to make a difference and want to solve real problems using data science.

Standard Bank data science mastery programme

Standard Bank’s Data Science Mastery programme, launched in 2016, fuses the fresh thinking of greenfield graduates with the competence of experienced staff members. The programme is designed not to teach theory but to provide practical experience, nurturing and mentorship.

Participants are exposed to a diverse set of problems in different fields of business areas where unique problems exist relating to that area and data-driven type solutions differ.

The ability to combine technical or theory with practical experience by working alongside internal employees is proving invaluable. The experience of rotating individuals across business areas cannot be replaced.

Standard Bank has worked to improve the overall data literacy of the organisation to support its activities now and in the future. When exposed to the skill and its possibilities, individuals become interested in mastering data language.

This is expected to place further demand on the programme, which has already received an overwhelming response. It has, however, been structured to scale over the next two to three years to meet the demand – both internally and externally

This investment is one of the significant strategic decisions that we, as Standard Bank, have made to build a foundation for the platform journey we are now on. Our extended agreement with CRM Salesforce is a major step towards transforming the Standard Bank Group into a client-centred platform business that delivers a range of individualised, instantly available solutions, services and opportunities, enabled by modern digital technologies and delivered in whatever way a client prefers.

The Salesforce investment requires every staff member to reflect on their current skill set, and whether it represents that of the future. If not, there is an expectation that everyone undergoes reskilling to cope and fundamentally evolve and adapt.

Africa can accelerate the solve

There is a massive opportunity for Africa as a continent, given its young population, to skill its people appropriately for the future. There is great demand for the data science capability yet significant unemployment plagues the continent. Africa’s youth are, however, ripe for these capabilities; they are more inclined to quickly comprehend technology because that is their immediate experience.  

The 4IR presents a golden opportunity for Africa. The rapid evolution of digital technology has caught the world off guard. Legacy organisations in well-established economies are undergoing transformation processes to digitally adopt. The continent, meanwhile, is a blank canvas – unhindered by legacy – that can leapfrog the world’s delay into the adoption if connectivity is enabled.

Investing in a data science mastery programme reinforces Standard Bank’s commitment to driving Africa’s growth. We are preparing Africans to be relevant in the future. Africa is our home, we are contributing to the future of the continent by laying these foundations. We will continue to expand on that and be part of the African story of preparing to meet demand for future skills in the region and globally as well.