Data science: the battle for talent can be won with professional certifications

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‘Data Scientist’ was recently named the most sought-after role from a recruitment perspective in the US according to figures from Glassdoor, and it’s been at the top spot for the last four years. Businesses are increasingly looking at those in this role to deliver business growth, and, in turn they are seen as imperative to the future of the organisation.

But what can Data Scientists offer, and why are they now so important to an enterprise? And how can the profession be formalised for those within the role as well as those looking to recruit them? Will bringing in an industry-approved certification programme bring the credibility that it needs and give Data Scientists a holistic view of their own professional development?

The growing need for data scientists

In recent years, Data Scientists have predominantly come from academic background – having studied quantitative disciplines such as economics, machine learning, statistics or operations research, to name a few. Yet as the profession has developed, many universities have founded specialist degree programmes in Data Science.

In a Data Scientist role, professionals are expected to work with business leaders and key decision makers in order to solve business problems. This is typically executed by harvesting, analysing and then understanding data, all to provide insight and recommendations that help the organisation to move towards whatever goal it is trying to achieve.

This is a position which is very much in demand when today’s broader business context is brought into view. IDC has reported that the global volume of data generated is set to increase tenfold - to 175 zettabytes (ZB) a year by 2025. Sixty per cent of this data will be produced and managed by organisations, and so they must employ those who have the skills to work with it, spot trends that may emerge and therefore advise the business on how to act upon the stories that the data tells.

In order to do so, Data Scientists use a variety of data platforms and programing languages. In fact, modern applications of Data Science range from traditional transactional data analytics, right through to natural language processing, machine learning and computer vision. Data scientists are working across many industries, driving insights and outcomes. In the healthcare sector Data Scientists are using cognitive computing technologies in order to deliver personalised and precision medicine to patients, as just one example.

It’s important that Data Scientists develop a good level of business acumen in order to fulfil the full potential of their role. Only then will be able to identify a business-specific problem, work up a hypothesis, test conclusions and determine appropriate methods to influence strategic choices through data. Furthermore, to then take this insight into the boardroom and effectively relay the findings and deliver solid consultancy requires strong communication and visualisation skills.

Data Scientists driving business value

In plain terms, those enterprises that invest in the people with the skillsets and tools to understand the data and provide this level of insight now, will position themselves for growth going forwards. And the demand for these professionals will only continue to increase with the growing amount of data being produced.

Data Science is still classed as a new profession and it’s one that’s becoming more accessible to a range of those either already in a technical field, or those just entering the world of work. Individuals with relevant experience can reskill and move into the Data Science field, whilst those studying can opt for a degree to take them into this career – both are attracted to the role due to its growing importance for business growth and the ability to impact results, as well as the lucrative salaries.

However, due to the rapid rate at which the Data Science landscape is evolving, fuelled by the demand for these professionals from the corporate world, we are now seeing a talent shortage emerge. Therefore, having several possible routes for individuals to enter the profession is helpful but doesn’t necessarily help businesses to identify, train and retain these employees. This is only amplified by the disparity in the experience and skills that individuals can have across the profession, which leaves employers struggling.

The requirement for a certification programme

In order to combat this, through a certification programme, Data Scientists can not only differentiate themselves in the labour market, but can also give themselves enhanced visibility to recruiters and employers, clearly stating their experience and the value they can bring to a business. These organisations can then easily identify the best candidates for new roles, but also ensure that current or prospective employees are working to the required high standards that the job demands.

To ensure consistency, compliance, and service quality across the board, a global certification programme is essential for the Data Scientist profession. This would give employers the tools to not only identify potential talent for their workforce via an objective and reliable framework, but would inform the wider industry on how a certification can be utilised by some of the world’s largest organisations.

The recent ‘Facing the storm: Navigating the global skills crisis’ report further emphasises the value of these guidelines, with certification programmes having the third highest impact in terms of the development of policies that bolster labour market competitiveness. However, there is still a long way to go to tackle the skills shortage as adoption of is still very low, at just 24 per cent.

Winning the war for talent

Over time, existing professions have realised the value of certification. For instance, Business, Enterprise and Solution Architects can attain a specific, peer-reviewed, vendor-neutral and globally recognised credential through The Open Group OpenCA program. Following in the footsteps of the architect’s programmes, there is now a dedicated framework for Data Scientists. Working alongside IBM, The Open Group and its members have developed the Open Data Scientist certification programme which is already available to professionals and employers in this field.

As AI marches on to infiltrate all areas of a business, the demand for these skills and therefore an accompanying framework will continue to grow. In order to start making insightful sense from their rapidly growing data sets and to support the business by facilitating data-driven decisions, organisations can look to a Data Science certification programme for the relevant tools. This will arm organisations to win the fight for the best talent. But, importantly, it will also make sure that Data Scientists are professionally empowered with the skills and experience required to fulfil this crucial role, that will drive the businesses of tomorrow.

Dr. Martin Fleming, VP, Chief Analytics Officer and Chief Economist
Maureen Fitzgerald Norton, Global Data Scientist Profession Leader,
IBM Corp