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Students don’t want the hottest job in tech. That’s a big problem for businesses

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The popularity of data science careers is plummeting amongst 16-21 year-olds, yet demand for data scientists and engineers has never been higher. For businesses trying to innovate, that spells trouble.


Image: Data science just isn’t cool anymore – or so say the young people.

Image: Dmitry Kovalchuk/ Getty Images

Employers could be facing future shortages of skilled digital professionals as the popularity of data science tumbles among young people.

Less than half (49%) of 16-21-year-olds in the UK consider data science as a career option, according to a survey by analytics platform Exasol, despite young people possessing many skills that are ideal for careers in technology.

The research suggests that businesses and educators are alienating young people from the data science field because they’re not doing a good enough job of communicating the importance and application of data in easy-to-understand terms.

With demand for data scientists and engineers on the rise, organizations will find it increasingly difficult to innovate and stay competitive if they fail to encourage more people into these roles, said Peter Jackson, chief data and analytics officer at Exasol.

“Data-driven decision making is increasing in popularity and is having a growing impact on profitability, lowering organizations’ operating costs and improving business resiliency, particularly as we begin to emerge from the pandemic,” Jackson told TechRepublic.

“If data science continues to drop in popularity among young people, businesses will be in danger of missing out on new ways to solve their data challenges.”

SEE: Hiring Kit: Video Game Designer (TechRepublic Premium)

Businesses today rely heavily on data to help them identify challenges, capitalize on opportunities and make decisions that can impact their bottom lines. As a result, demand for data scientists and data engineers has more than tripled since 2013.

Yet Exasol found that these roles were rapidly losing popularity amongst younger generations, with researchers suggesting that the
terminology and technical jargon

associated with data science was too difficult for young people to understand.

“Young people are not familiar with jargon such as ‘data literacy’, ‘algorithm’, ‘machine learning’ or ‘big data’,” said Jackson, who said this demonstrated “a clear disconnect” between the language young people used and the language used by employers to advertise data careers.   

More than half (51%) of the 1,000 16–21-year-olds surveyed by Exasol were unfamiliar with the term ‘data literacy’, while 50% were unaware of what ‘big data’ was.

Researchers also found that young people may be unaware that they possess many of the skills and attributes applicable to jobs in data analysis, or that the skills they want to feature in their careers feature heavily in technical roles.

Think twice before using metaphors to explain complex tech


This includes communication (39%), decision making (34%), problem solving (33%), finding information (32%), asking questions (30%), telling stories (23%) and mathematics (20%). These were also in line with what respondents described as key characteristics of data scientists: mathematical, problem solving, analytical, intelligence and confidence.  

More work needs to be done when it comes to ‘selling’ data science careers to young people, said Jackson, who called on the data science industry to work with schools to develop a curriculum around data science concepts.

“When it comes to education, these youngsters recognize that the education system too needs to better prepare them, teaching them not only how to understand data, but also how to communicate it,” said Jackson.

He added: “We need to bring data to life to make it more appealing and ‘human’.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated change in the UK’s labor market, leading to a shift in the type of jobs available and the skills sought after by employers – with tech topping the list.

The skills shortage is already here

Exasol’s research comes in the same week that data from City & Guilds points towards
a growing tech skills gap in the UK.

According to the latest annual City & Guilds Skills Index, demand for digital and tech roles in the UK increased 21% from April 2020 to April 2021.

Despite this, more than half of businesses (56%) said they faced some kind of barrier to meeting their skills and talent needs, with 28% citing a mismatch between the skills they needed and the skills students currently gained through education.

SEE: The future of work: Tools and strategies for the digital workplace (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Programming and software skills were among the most in-demand skills for digital and tech roles, including programming language

and cloud platforms
Amazon Web Services (AWS)

Microsoft Azure.

The fastest-growing role was cybersecurity technician, with job postings increasing by a massive 19,922% between April 2020 and April 2021.

Other in-demand tech roles were full-stack engineer (312%), cybersecurity engineer (292%), front-end software engineer (184%) and Azure architect (174%).

The report concluded that employers need to better understand the skills they require to meet their talent and operational needs, while calling on educators to review the sorts of skills they teach students to better prepare them for a changing jobs market.

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