Scotland set for a data revolution

Scotland set for a data revolution

One in three British residents don’t know which industries are crying out for skilled workers according to a recent poll by Stormline. It is essential that we address that challenge here in Scotland, says Gillian Docherty, CEO The Data Lab Innovation Centre.

One of the hottest skills sets in town is that of the data scientist – a role that has been lauded as the sexiest job of the 21st Century.

This is on the back of the vast amounts of data being generated by social media, mobile applications, sensor networks and machine-to-machine communications and the significant challenge of managing, securing, processing and making sense of it all.

That’s where data scientists come in. But there is not enough of them. This shortage is driving up salaries, with data science professionals earning on average £55,000, 31% more than other IT professionals.

Looking at the wider context - Scotland’s big data opportunity is worth £18bn over the next three years according to The Centre for Economic and Business Research. Indeed, Scotland has some of the best data in the world - 75% of organisations in Scotland have the infrastructure to analyse both internal and external data compared to 57% in the UK as a whole according to an EMC survey.

Every aspect of our lives today is data-driven. Being technically savvy is the new norm. From downloading music, exercising and ordering the weekly shop through to crime prevention and medical diagnosis.

At The Data Lab we come across exciting data projects every day that are not just about data, they are ultimately about problem solving and communication. That means it is not just about being technically astute, it’s about being creative too.

Such projects are making significant contribution to the Scottish economy and some are helping solve large problems in society today, like curing cancer.

We have to future-proof our skills pipelines in Scotland. We must take action now to nurture young talent for a career in one of the most valuable industries around.

I recently had the chance to catch up with schoolgirls (on International Women’s Day). I was hoping to inspire them to consider a career in data science. I was in turn inspired by their enthusiasm. Once we’d debunked the ‘techie’ myths and helped them see the value of data in terms they understand you could see a tangible shift in realisation that they really could indeed carve out a career in this area.

The number of data science jobs in the UK rose by 41 per cent from 2012 to 2013 and it is estimated that there will be approximately 56,000 data science job opportunities a year in the UK by 2020 according to a recent study by The Tech Partnership and SAS UK.

Scotland has a real chance to be a driving force on the world data stage not least because we have a disproportionately large academic base in comparison to the size of our country, and it is packed with world-class facilities and researchers undertaking ground-breaking projects.

We have to act innovatively to address the skills challenge and leverage the opportunity. We need to work together, inspire those with transferrable skills in other fields and stir interest in the sector at the earliest opportunity.

At The Data Lab we are already making strides in all these areas working with industry, education and internationally renowned specialists to break the mould of traditional ways to stem the STEM gap. If we are going to make a real difference we have to think differently.

The data revolution is here. Let’s ensure we maximise the opportunity here in Scotland.