Are degrees in Data Science the way to bridge the digital skills gap?

Posted on 7 Sep 2022

It’s well-recognised that there is a digital skills shortage in the global job market. For many years various initiatives, such as women in STEM, apprenticeships, and Open University schemes have aimed to redress the balance and recruit the talented workers required, but with varying degrees of success.

In response, Imperial College London has recently announced that it will be launching the first BSc in Economics, Finance and Data Science, with the course due to begin in October 2023. But what impact, if any, will this have on the UK data skills shortage? And what effect could this have on the IT departments of the future?

A history of the Data Skills shortage

Globally, it is estimated that 7 in 10 firms are struggling to fill digital vacancies, as reported by Forbes. Experts and advisers have been concerned for several years that the number of employees trained to work in IT is not keeping pace with the rate at which technology is developing. An enlightening article by Raconteur puts this into context, publishing figures collected by Cybersecurity Venture that found that the number of unfilled vacancies in cybersecurity grew from 1 million to 3.5 million worldwide in just 8 years, a number which looks unlikely to decrease in the next 8 years.

The article finds how certain roles, such as developing the digital defence system required by so many, if not all, of modern companies, have become increasingly hard to fill, and as a consequence the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has detailed that 39% of businesses reported hacks and breaches of data security between March 2021 and March 2022.

Here in the UK, the outlook is similarly concerning, with Clar Rosso, CEO of ISC discussing how, over the course of the pandemic, the cybersecurity workforce shrank by 65,000, despite the increased demand for professionals with these skills. In fact, the situation has become so alarming, that Raconteur now labels the shortage in data skills not as a gap, but a “chasm”. But with a demand so high, what has previously been done to address the skills shortage, and what could be done in the future to stop the problem getting worse?

Addressing the Skills Shortage

Tim Herbet, chief research officer at CompTIA has noted how, in order to fill the large number of vacancies, many companies have turned towards “unicorn” staff, employees with a variety of skills performing multiple roles. But arguably this is unsustainable, as overworked staff are the first to consider changing career paths or leaving the workforce.

In future, in order to thrive, recruiters will need to create more inclusive cultures that welcomes employees of different genders and ethnic background. The IT sector is notorious for its lack of diversity, and figures have shown that in the UK only 19% of IT specialists identify as women. As BCS report, if gender representation in IT had remained on par with the “norm” seen in other sectors in the UK, there would be an additional 466,000 IT specialists in the UK jobs market.

Importantly, it notes that a high percentage of diverse talent typically arrives through an academic route. With this in mind, could a new degree incorporating economics and finance with data science be the perfect solution?

Higher Education and Data Science

With the course yet to launch, it’s impossible to tell the impact that this degree will have. But with the finding stated above regarding the correlation between diversity, the digital landscape, and academia, this could be step in the right direction.

However, it could also be argued that a degree course comes too late in an academic career to bridge the skills gap. Arguably, there should be a greater focus on digital skills at school and college levels, and there is an argument for making it a compulsory GCSE option. With university fees and the cost of living increasing, higher education is not accessible for all, so creating more education opportunities at an earlier stage should be considered as a priority.

If the degree is a success, however, what impact could this have on IT and recruitment?

The impact on IT and Recruitment

IT and the role it has played in the workplace has transformed unrecognisably since the millennium. As a company that started in 2000, we can tell you that from experience! But we’ve also seen IT staff be required to perform more and more roles. If there were more staff available not only would this make it easier for recruitment departments to source and hire talent, but there would be more professionals who could deal with, and overcome, the increasing risk of cybersecurity threats. However, as all experts are quick to note, there is no easy solution to this increasingly pressing problem.

What are your opinions on new higher education courses that include data science? Can they make lasting change, or does more need to be done? Get in touch to let us know your thoughts.