A new Sydney training college for data analysts and data scientists is set to open in Pyrmont in August, a move that aims to address the skills crisis in Australia.
The Data School Australia will offer attendees a paid, two-year immersive learning and workplace secondment in data analytics. School consultants will receive training from industry experts and practitioners from analytics and technology consultancy, MIP Australia.
Formal learning, which will enable the trainees to graduate with industry certifications in Tableau Server, Tableau Desktop and Alteryx, will be augmented by placements in the financial services, retail and media markets. There, consultants will work on projects involving large and complex data sets alongside industry professionals.
The launch of the Australian school in Sydney follows the 2015 launch in London in the UK and has since provided a consistent source of data analytics talent to over 30 customers in Europe and beyond, according to Data School UK founder Tom Brown.
Brown, who’s in town for the launch of the Australian school, told CIO Australia the same training programs implemented in the UK are coming to Sydney. The Australian launch is in collaboration with MIP Australia, a Tableau and Alteryx partner.
“What we’re doing here in Australia is replicating a business that we run in the UK. We founded the Data School in the UK in 2015 in response to the skills shortage that we found with two particular software products, Tableau and Alteryx that we were representing in the UK.
“That skills shortage is the same in Australia now as it was in the UK in 2015. Over the past three years in the UK, the school has been training 24 people a year - groups of eight people three times a year.
“It’s been so successful that we are currently doubling that. We have just moved to changing the cadence of the school so we are training eight people every two months, instead of every four months. So now we’re training over 50 people a year,” he said.
Asked the type of people coming onboard, Brown said the trainees are from all walks of life.
“The people we’re finding come from all different backgrounds, but they share a common passion for working with data,” he said, explaining some people - even some doctors and nurses in the UK - are looking for a career change.
Boosting Australia’s digital skills
The Data School Australia head coach, Craig Dewar, said the focus of the program is to turn trainees into brilliant data analysts/scientists with the skills and experience to forge a lucrative career in this exciting sphere.
“Our school will look for prospective trainees who have a passion for data and a desire to learn,” Dewar said, explaining the curriculum focuses on data visualisation and data analytics, which includes spatial analytics and predictive modelling.
“They don’t need to have a particular degree or background. We’re excited to play a role in developing and boosting Australia’s digital skills capability.”
The data school will run three intakes a year – in April, August and December – with the first cohort of students set to commence in August.
“This is our first cohort in Sydney. We’re about to kick off in August. We’ve been looking for people since about the end of April. We’ve just lined up our first crew.”
He said the school has had over 200 responses.
"The recruitment process has been unique. We didn’t look too deeply at people’s CVs or their backgrounds. We were really looking for people who could demonstrate their passion for data,” he said.
Brown explained that the process involved giving prospective trainees a visualisation challenge, which included coaching and guidance that culminated in trainees presenting their data sets during a semi-formal interview.
“We were looking for people who not only had a passion for data, but who responded quickly to feedback and encouragement. We were looking for their consultancy and how they were going to present and fit into the culture of the data school,” said Dewar.
Brown said one of the nice things about the recruitment process in the UK has been the team has been able to get a 50/50 gender split.
“A great thing about the school is it’s created a really nice atmosphere and culture for the company. We don’t see that 50/50 gender split in any tech industry. We see more like 80 per cent male and 20 per cent female. So we’re pleased we’ve introduced many more women into this working space than we would normally expect.”
Dewar said the Australian school is following the same trend towards diversity with the organisation's first cohort in Sydney being 42 per cent female.
Power of ‘soft skills’
But it’s not just about the technology or the toolset, Dewar said.
“The soft skills become very important when you’re out there in the world of consulting. The ability to present to clients, engage with them to solicit things that they need to do, and determine their key KPIs and how they elicit those requirements, prioritise them and give them a product they are happy with, is very important.”
Certainly, the data school will give trainees a real-world immersion which will enable them to develop the ‘soft skills’ necessary to succeed in the data analytics sector, including project approach and design and client and stakeholder management, according to MIP Australia chief operating officer, Peter Kokinakos.
According to Gartner, 80 per cent of organisations will struggle to roll out data literacy competency programs within the next two years, as they realise their extreme deficiency in this space.
Currently, the use of data to drive decision-making remains limited to a small group of people. Highly trained analysts comb through large data stores and create meaningful reports that are shared with senior managers but for the majority of workers, such a resource remains out of reach, said Brown.
“When companies take on analytics on a large scale, they need a lot of help. You will want to have some experts around when you’re doing it at large scale.”
Indeed, the data science and data analytics space is a “white hot” growth area, Kokinakos added. “The reason we’re looking at a data school in the Australia market right here, right now, is we’re tapped into a market that’s growing so fast that the skills shortage is actually now being stretched even further.
“So we’re looking at this as a grow-your-own type approach to creating new data scientists and new data analysts moving forward for the Australian market.”