Where is the UK’s Google?
Wed 15 Feb 2017 | Jennifer Roubaud
When discussing the UK’s role in technological innovation, the question keeps coming up: Where is the UK’s Google? The country has been prominent in the technology scene for over 20 years, so why hasn’t the UK developed an Apple, Google, or Facebook?
If we follow the money, it is clear that the UK cannot compete with the billions invested in US-based startups and it’s no wonder UK startups do not get the same amount of attention as those in Silicon Valley, because the amount of money pales by comparison. But it seems as though this may change in the next five years, as the UK government is hedging its bets on data science.
Across the globe, there is a push for more data scientists, as the skills gap widens in this industry. The demand for this position is especially strong in the UK, where roles for data scientists rose by 32 % in the first half of 2016 alone. Paul Maltby, Director of Data for the UK government, echoed this call for data scientists, noting they need this position quickly on a government level as well.
Across The UK there have been significant steps to encourage individuals to become data scientists
Government organisations and private companies alike are realising that they specifically need ‘data scientists’ and not an intelligent person that can analyse data. This skills gap has prompted many executives to call data scientists “unicorns” as they search for qualified individuals.
The UK government has actively begun campaigns to close this skills gap across the nation. Could this be the UK’s way of leading the world in technology?
UK programmes to encourage data science learning
Across The UK there have been significant steps to encourage individuals to become data scientists. Each of these programmes seeks to prepare citizens for the changing technological world and to help them learn the industry best practices.
The Data Science Accelerator Programme
This accelerator programme asks participants to use one day per week to learn and advance their data science skills. It is a cross-government programme, backed by GDS, the Office for National Statistics, GO-Science, and analytical professions. Participants learn about the work of the government and make great visualisations using code and statistics. Armed with an unlocked Mac, participants receive training and the chance to complete a data science project.
Data Science Campus
The Office of National Statistics (ONS) created a Data Science Campus to aid in data science learning and development, and the campus is open to all:
We actively welcome Academia, Government and Industry partners who wish to join us as we seek to meet the demands and challenges posed by the evolving economy and push the boundaries of data science research within ONS and beyond.
The campus aims to help position the UK as a leader in data science and to educate and equip individuals with knowledge of data science.
Data Analytics Apprentices
Another ONS programme, the data analytics apprentice programme aims at people with relevant A levels or equivalent experience. The programme provides them with an opportunity to work on analytical problems and leads to an accredited level 4 diploma. ONS Deputy National Statistician for Data Capability Heather Savory said: “ONS is looking for the best people to take full advantage of cutting-edge tools and technologies and to help ONS make the most of the data revolution.”
Data Science Ethical Framework
For those who want to learn data science best practices, the Cabinet Office, Government Digital Service has published a guide on the topic. This framework, available to anyone, aims to “give civil servants guidance on conducting data science projects, and the confidence to innovate with data.” Even for those who do not participate in a government programme, there is still information on data science.
The UK as a leader in data science and technology
As other countries struggle to keep up, the UK government is taking an active approach to the skills gap
Data science has benefits across many industries, and the UK government is seeking to position itself as a top leader in this field. Many colleges and universities are offering data science undergraduate and postgraduate courses, and data science bootcamps have sprung up across the UK. While both college and university courses, as well as boot-camps, are a step in the right direction in preparing data scientists, government-backed programmes signify a nation-wide effort to address this skills gap.
The UK economy is expected to create 56,000 jobs for data scientists every year between now and 2020, which means it’s time to start preparing individuals for this career. The UK is taking a unique governmental approach to closing the skills gap, and time will tell if this is a strategy other countries should adopt.
Data science is a top need across worldwide companies, and if the UK is prepared to train individuals to meet this need, it is likely the nation can become a leader in the technology space. As other countries struggle to keep up, the UK government is taking an active approach to the skills gap. Could this be the way the UK creates a Google or Facebook? Time will tell, but for now, it’s a strong step in that direction.