Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

Investment needed to meet UK demand for big data skills and analytics

Demand will create over 300,000 jobs by 2020 according to SAS and Tech Partnership

The demand for big data professionals in the UK has created a salary bubble enabling them to command more than double the average wage*, according to a report “Big Data Analytics: Demand for Labour and Skills, 2013-2020” published by SAS, the leader in business analytics software and services and Tech Partnership, the Sector Skills Council for Business and Information Technology. The study anticipates that by 2020 the UK will have created cumulatively 346,000 big data positions since 2013 and there will be approximately 56,000 job opportunities a year in 2020 for big data professionals. This equates to 160 per cent growth in demand between 2013 and 2020, while overall UK employment is set to rise by just six per cent for the same period.

Jobs required to support big data projects have increased more than tenfold in the past five years to 21,400 in 2013, and with demand significantly outstripping supply the average pay packet for big data professionals has reached £55,000 – 24 per cent more than the average IT position. Unsurprisingly, big data experts are more difficult to recruit than other professional or managerial staff, with three quarters (77 per cent) of big data positions considered either ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ difficult to fill over the past year. Recruitment specialists servicing the sector ranked senior data analytics roles as harder to fill than those in business intelligence, purchasing, engineering, sales, finance, management, IT/communications, marketing/PR and health/medical.

SAS is working with industry peers and government organisations to develop these skills at a grassroots level. Through SAS Curriculum Pathways in schools, university partnerships and its own certification courses, it can lead big data professionals on a full data science career path. The UK Government is also supporting the drive for more big data professionals with the implementation of national standards and the creation of new projects, especially around open data.

Mark Wilkinson, Managing Director, SAS UK & Ireland, said: "Big data is on the cusp of going mainstream as the Internet of Things takes hold, and government, businesses and individuals look to use information to make better and faster decisions. We believe that big data is the ‘new oil’ that will power the information economy - and big data analytics will refine this ‘new oil’ so valuable insights can be extracted that inform business decision-making. SAS has already invested more than £100m in the UK to support universities and develop the next generation of big data professionals. This year we took it even further offering a free university edition of our software to all students - backed by online training and community support. ”

However, mature a company is in terms of its data analytics, it’s important to have access to appropriate technology and skills. SAS delivers advanced enterprise solutions to more mature organisations. There is also increasing democratisation of analytics so it can be put in the hands of all business users. Visual software for companies newer to analytics can be used by employees who are not trained data scientists. In addition, ANSWERS from SAS gives companies access to analytical expertise as a service to answer specific questions without the larger capital outlay, but also keep the option of scaling up in the future.

As part of SAS’ commitment to developing big data skills in the UK, the new SAS Data Science Curriculum will be available online. It comprises a series of courses covering data preparation, analysis of structured and unstructured data as well as advanced techniques such as predictive modelling. It is open to graduates as well as existing data scientists looking to build on their current areas of expertise.

Supply and demand in the UK IT jobs market

Even with new training programmes designed to create more of these skills in the workplace, demand is still rising for big data professionals. Over 2012-2013 it jumped 41 per cent, while demand for IT staff declined by nine per cent. Organisations are looking to more effectively harness their data assets by appointing more specialists to the business. Developers are most sought by UK employers and comprised 41 per cent of big data positions advertised in 2013, followed by architects (10 per cent), consultants (10 per cent), analysts (7 per cent) and administrators (5 per cent). 

Director of the Tech Partnership, Karen Price, said: “This report confirms that big data is a highly significant growth area for the UK economy, yet there is a real shortage of skilled people coming into the industry. With the number of available jobs in big data increasing every year, it’s vital that we attract new talent into the industry to ensure that businesses have the skilled staff they need to grow and be successful.

“The Tech Partnership recognises that investment in education and training opportunities is vital to securing a strong talent pipeline for the digital economy, and it is fantastic to see that SAS are making this commitment to develop skills in the industry.”

When it comes to demand for methodological skills, the proportion of adverts citing a requirement in ‘big data’ knowledge was up 143 per cent on the previous year. Data analysis was up 65 per cent, analytics 53 per cent, data management 44 per cent and relational databases 43 per cent. The largest annual increases in demand across this skills group were for statistical analysis (183 per cent) and predictive modelling (146 per cent), whilst machine learning, big data analytics and predictive analytics were noted for annual increases of more than 100 per cent for the year.

Between 2012 and 2013, 96 per cent of all advertised big data positions were in England. More specifically, 63 per cent were based in London, followed by 12 per cent in the South East, five per cent in the North West, and four per cent in Yorkshire and the South West respectively. Three per cent of jobs were posted in Scotland, while Wales and Ireland together accounted for just one per cent.  

With proven use cases for counteracting fraud, price modelling, risk management and meeting compliance regulations, the financial services sector was the most commonly cited in big data advertisements, accounting for around 20 per cent of all positions in 2013. Banking was mentioned in five per cent of adverts, and the gaming and retail sectors mentioned in four per cent.

*Full time permanent workers