Demand for data science talent in Scotland continues to grow

Companies including RBS, Clydesdale Bank, Scottish Power and Tesco have taken on Scotland’s emerging data science graduates after another successful year of the Data Lab’s internationally-recognised MSc programme, while public sector organisations NHS Information Services Division (NSS), North-Ayrshire Council and Scottish Government have done the same, as demand for data science talent continues to grow.

The academic year 2017/18 saw 130 Data Lab MSc places completed across 11 universities, with 76 of them undertaking industry placements at 50 different organisations in Scotland. In response to growing demand, The Data Lab has increased places available in 2018/19 by 25 to 155; representing a 310% increase in places since the programme’s inception three years ago.

Since launching its MSc data science programme in 2015/16, The Data Lab has supported 260 MSc places through 21 courses delivered across 11 Universities. It aims to extend this to support 665 new data science MScs over the next five years, ensuring a pipeline of talent into Scottish businesses.

“Data science represents a multi-billion-pound economic opportunity for Scotland and we are committed to supporting the data science talent pipeline in Scotland to leverage this increasingly important skill across all sectors,” said Brian Hills, head of data at The Data Lab.

“We are gratified to see a growing awareness of data science and its possibilities across many sectors and encourage organisations of every shape and size to get in touch to discuss how data science might enhance their profitability, sustainability and innovation both now and in the future.”

Data driven innovation holds enormous potential and we are determined to ensure Scotland has the skills to help our economy flourish – Richard Lochhead.

The Data Lab recently received £13.5m in core funding from the Scottish Government, Scottish Funding Council, Scottish Enterprise, and Highlands and Islands Enterprise for phase two (2019 to 2024) of its mandate to establish Scotland’s place as global data leader. Its MSc programme, which is delivered in collaboration with academic and industry partners, is central to this ambition.

Three of the 11 participating universities have also added new ‘conversion’ MSc courses aimed at students looking to transition to a new career path in Data Science. These cover artificial intelligence, data science, human robot interaction (all from Heriot-Watt University) and an MSc in FinTech which is available at the Universities of Strathclyde and Stirling, further reflecting increasing demand for data science skills.

Richard Lochhead, Minister for Higher Education, said: “It’s great to see the Data Lab-supported MSc Data Science programme going from strength to strength and incubating the talent needed to support our ambition of making Scotland Europe’s data capital. Data driven innovation holds enormous potential and we are determined to ensure Scotland has the right digital and data skills to help our economy flourish now and in the future.”

Private firms including Think Analytics, SnapDragon Monitoring, Merkle Aquila, DeepMiner and construction firm Wood-Mackenzie, and international companies such as Morgan Stanley and Previse have decided to keep working with their new data science graduates while still others have offered consultancy work to their student placements.

Student Project Award: Debbie Maltman & Volunteer Scotland

The MSc programme provides students with a choice of industrial placements or research-based projects. While many opt for a research-based project at their university, 76 placements were given after 100 employers noted their interest in participating in the programme. The Data Lab worked closely with its academic partners and the placement companies to support each student throughout the placement and monitor progress. At the end, a winning project was chosen.

This year’s Student Project Award winner is Debbie Maltman who undertook an MSc in Data Science for Business from Stirling University. The award is judged by a panel of data science experts and Data Lab partners, including specialist recruitment company MBN Solutions, which secures the industrial placements for the MSc programme.

Debbie worked on a project for Volunteer Scotland where she used statistical analysis and machine learning to help the charity understand online search behaviour so that it can positively influence users towards volunteering opportunities.

Debbie’s project is a perfect example of the practical impact data science can have – Paul Forrest.

Currently about 27% of adults in Scotland volunteer for good causes, but the number of hours they have been putting in has been decreasing steadily for five years – from £2.1bn per year in equivalent economic value to £1.1bn per year.

Debbie used several publicly available data sets alongside Volunteer Scotland’s own data to build statistical analyses of volunteer hours and demographics. Her data models and findings have been crucial for Volunteer Scotland in understanding the key factors for why individuals volunteer, how often they volunteer and how much of their time they give. She also helped to enrich the organisation’s existing data analyses so that it can better connect with potential new volunteers.

“It was exciting to put my MSc theory to the test with a real-world project and was hugely rewarding to be able to use my skills on such a worthwhile initiative,” said Debbie. “I learned a lot from being in a professional environment and the entire project was thoroughly helpful for my career development.

“I am very happy to be returning to return to Volunteer Scotland in mid-October as a Research Officer on a fixed-term contract until June 2019. Staying in Scotland was really important to me and being given the opportunity to work with the incredible research team at Volunteer Scotland has topped off a brilliant year.”

Alan Stevenson, marketing and IT manager from Volunteer Scotland, said: “Debbie introduced our small team to some of the key skills and knowledge which has moved our insight and experimentation capability from the rudimentary to a much more enlightened understanding. Debbie has been a wonderful ambassador for the power of data science within an organisation. We hope we can continue this aspect of her work with as much vigour and passion.”

Paul Forrest, chair of MBN Solutions, commented: “As always, it was very difficult to choose a winner – demonstrating the outstanding quality of data courses across Scotland’s universities. Debbie’s project is a perfect example of the practical impact data science can have on smaller organisations, as well as the value her skills brought to the wider team.”

Pictured: Data Lab MSc launch, 2016. Picture: Lesley Martin.