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Talent, one of the most often discussed challenges for most Data Leaders; Where do you find it? How do you attract it? How do you keep it? What do you call it? What do you expect from it? What should you pay for it? Is there really a shortage of Data Talent in the north? And, the challenges associated with all of the above.

Talent in the North

As a specialist recruiter within Data & Analytics I am in a position to advise from both candidate and client perspective. I speak to clients every day who have these same questions and challenges and, when offering my advice and insight on the current talent market, I always advise on the unique position we find ourselves in the North.

Over the last few years we have seen an influx of organisations opening a “Northern HQ” across Manchester, Leeds or Edinburgh, or moving out of the capital completely for various reasons. The issue; we have a considerably smaller population than London and therefore a smaller pool of talent.

Many organisations are now claiming to be “data driven” and make business decisions based on their data and the work they do with it.

One thing is for sure, with more and more organisations investing heavily to grow and develop their data and analytics capability in pursuit of data excellence, the need for talent is rising at a rapid rate and people with these skills are more in demand than they have ever been before.

Unfortunately, we are at a point where demand is higher than supply at all levels, especially at the mid-senior level. This means that businesses are left with a choice to make, do they “battle it out” for experience or do they take a “risk” by hiring graduates who, in theory, they can train, develop and mould? Either way, it’s an investment!

We find that the organisations that aggressively compete on price or “battle it out” tend to overpay for talent. For example, we see people with 6 months commercial experience being offered £40-£50K which only drives up the expectations of the experienced market.

While the logic of “paying for the best talent” may make sense in theory, all it really does is contribute further to the talent issues our industry faces.

For example, Jimmy the Data Scientist at ABC hears his friend Bob at XYZ is getting paid 10, 15 or even 20K more elsewhere and therefore expects the same, which often results in that person looking for new roles purely on the basis they believe they are worth more than they are currently remunerated.

Inadvertently, this drives the gap between talent and opportunity wider, as many businesses want the skill-set, but just aren’t able or willing to “overpay” meaning we are contributing to the talent shortage.

Economics tells us that when supply falls back in the line with demand, then we reach the point of equilibrium. We need to find a way of getting more people into the industry for that to happen.


The Underlying Problem

If we observe the traditional university degrees which lend themselves to giving a student the appropriate skills to have a successful career in data, then we think of; Computer Science, Mathematics, Statistics etc.

However, we need to realise that there are a number of other career choices available for people with these type of skills/degrees.

To put it simply, there aren’t enough people entering university studying the relevant degrees that have the desire to pursue a career in Data.


The Solution? 

I am constantly talking about “raising the profile” of Data. Students at many levels are simply just unaware of what “data” is, that businesses are in desperate need of these skills, and that they could build a really successful career in this field.

Personally, I think we need to start highlighting data at an earlier age, high-school would be a start, so that students know what types of subjects they should pursue, or students who enjoy certain subjects, realise they can use those skills and interests to work in what has become an extremely sought after ‘business’ role.

The reality is that the people who climb the ranks in this industry, are the people who are able to take the technical insights and translate them into laymans terms for business people to create actions. You don’t have to be completely technical, it’s about being able to ‘tell the story’

With that in mind, I think we can start to look at students from less traditional routes of study.

It isn’t essential to have studied Computer Science or Math (although it almost certainly helps) as “data” as an industry is so wide and varying. I genuinely believe that there are students studying other degrees that have the skill-set to fill some of the talent voids we currently have. For example, I work with data leaders who have degrees in Finance, Business, Geology and Marketing etc and are employed by global businesses to run, develop and grow an entire data function.

Last week, I presented to a group of students at Manchester Metropolitan University who are a part of the Q-Step in the Community programme. A government initiative to attract more talent to the fields of data, analytics and research.

Effectively, we have a group of 60+ students who have studied Sociology or Criminology and studied a number of quantitative research modules who are experienced in building models, analysing data, and using certain tools to do so. These skills are what a number of organisations are currently looking for. The scariest thing is that very few of these students are even aware that they have skills which are some of the most sought after skill-sets in the world. Not to mention, they are oblivious to the fact that they could have excellent career opportunities in the world of “data”

Together, with MMU we are looking to get some of these students some commercial experience to “raise the profile of data” and get more people into an industry that is massively short of talent.

If you think you could entertain a work placement (free of charge) then please contact me. 


In summary:

The work we are doing with MMU is an example of how we can all start to make a difference to the data talent shortage. But, this solution is future focused. How can you get talent into your business today?

When competing for talent that is in such demand, it is imperative that you stand out from the crowd. As previously stated, a lot of businesses are claiming to be “data-driven” but I know very few where Data is the true lifeblood of the business. If you can demonstrate that the work your data teams do directly impacts the direction of the business then you’ll put yourself at the front of the crowd.  I speak to candidates every day and many are now trying to establish which businesses truly value data versus the ones who are trying to tick a box. We have seen a shift in candidate motivations recently, for the majority, the most important factor for choosing a company is being somewhere where they can add real value.

In addition to this, organisations that work with the latest/greatest technologies, that are willing to invest in new things, work on cutting edge technologies, give flexibility around the working hours/environment, offer great benefits and build a great culture and brand will really stand out.

It’s not always about money for candidates, but just be aware that businesses that don’t offer the above will attempt to level the playing field by offering more than competitive salaries.

For more in depth analysis on your business and how to attract the best talent, just get in touch, I’d be happy to have a confidential chat.

As it stands, there is no short-term fix to get experience, immediately into our industry.

However, to achieve our long-term goal of increasing the talent in Data, in the short to mid-term we should start to look at post-grad students who have degrees/skills that may be transferable. For the long term, we need to actively raise the profile of data and start to educate students in their earlier years about a career in data and all the opportunities it provides so we have more students studying more related degrees. This combined approach, over time might just start to bridge the gap.