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Oscar Williams

News editor

AI Expo 2018: How to recruit, develop and retain world-class data scientists

Europe is facing a data skills crisis. The EU estimates that by 2020, there will be 346,000 fewer data scientists across the continent than businesses need. It’s no surprise then that organisations in Britain and beyond are struggling to recruit top data talent.

During a panel discussion at AI Expo in London on Wednesday, Pardeep Bassi – head of data science at insurance giant LV – warned that, given the current climate, businesses must avoid the trap of searching only for fully-formed candidates.

“I want someone who’s got a statistical background, can code, understand a business problem and communicate,” he said, but added that it’s difficult to find people with each of those qualities upfront. Instead, he advised: “When hiring or bring people into your team, identify people who can learn. If they have one of those attributes, they can learn the others.”

Peter Jackson, chief data officer at Southern Water, agreed that recruiters should broaden their search beyond candidates already working in the field: “At the moment, I’m trying to up-skill the team in house, because these are people who’ve been in the company for a number of years.” Jackson added that existing employees already have a comprehensive knowledge of the data: “Up-skilling them is a faster route for me than recruiting.”

However, the challenges of employing data scientists aren’t confined to the recruitment process. Dennis Curry, executive director of Konica Minolta, warned that if businesses fail to develop a strong vision, they may rapidly lose their best staff: “If you’ve got a really good project or a really good vision, that they can see they can add value to, you will get the best talent. If you don’t, they’ll play with your data lake and get bored and move on.”

Curry added: “The best talent come when you have a really good vision and they can see that there’s a future in the company and they can grow within themselves.” Southern Water’s Jackson said that promoting his company’s vision is a top priority: “I try to excite them about the huge datasets we have to play with.”

But ultimately, Curry suggested firms shouldn’t focus all of their efforts on hiring data scientists. “You can have data scientists in a room and they’ll crack on and do lots of great stuff. But they’re not the everything – you need a complete team. You need to build something that is holistic.”