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DataIQ Members briefing: Attracting, nurturing and retaining talent – tips from the DataIQ 100

Over a quarter (27%) of the DataIQ 100 2022 edition say that the demanding market for data skills and difficulties in finding talent are a significant issue for their data plans. A variety of approaches are being adopted to resolve the problem, ranging from recruiting out of non-traditional backgrounds to providing ongoing skills development. This briefing lays out the common points identified from an analysis of this year’s Q&As. 
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Background

DataIQ has spent the last decade in conversation with data leaders, their teams and stakeholders. These conversations provide DataIQ with a unique perspective to understand the challenges facing data leaders and their teams and right now there is no greater challenge than recruiting and retaining data talent, especially when viewed through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

This whitepaper discusses how organisations are attempting to meet the challenge based on the experiences of the DataIQ 100 as revealed through their Q&As for the 2022 edition.

Executive summary

  • There is no single game-changing strategy for finding and keeping the best talent. Many data leaders cited more than one contributory factor for the success of their talent strategies
  • However, some common components can be identified. A significant proportion of respondents (27%) commented on the demanding market for data skills and difficulties in finding talent which, for some, is a significant issue for their data plans.
  • Just over half (51%) emphasised the importance of recruiting from non-traditional backgrounds.
  • Several recognised that individuals with significant neurodiversity can be important in changing analytical thinking and are actively working with third-parties who support those from diverse and non-traditional backgrounds as a route to recruitment.
  • For larger organisations, there is often a focus on recruiting and developing talent early in people’s careers. Over 17% of respondents mentioned either graduate or apprenticeship schemes.
  • Many actively recruit from within their own organisations, taking individuals who are already well-versed in the organisation’s mission and values and then retraining them with data or analytical skills. A key method for doing this involves promoting innovative and interesting work that in-house data teams have successfully completed.
  • Having an attractive employer brand for the organisation was occasionally cited as an attractor of new talent and, while this may help people “to find the front door”, it was acknowledged that other aspects of the roles on offer still need to be right to attract the top talent.
  • The financial package on offer was rarely mentioned as a differentiator for recruiting new talent. For many data roles, particularly those in data science or analytics, factors other than salary appear to be more important in attracting the right individuals.
  • Keeping data and analytics talent can be equally as hard as recruitment. Company culture and management style were mentioned by 28% of the respondents as critical, including the development of an open culture where analyists and data scientists have some freedom to explore new ideas.
  • Similarly, the nature of the work available to skilled data professionals is also important for retention with 23% point to exciting or innovative projects. Providing leading-edge applications and technology also plays a role.
  • A structured career development plan is important according to 20% of respondents. In a few cases, this is extended to an internal data academy or external relationships with academic institutions leading to professional certifications.

Overview

The evidence base for this whitepaper is the set of responses provided by Data titans, Data enablers and Influencers in the DataIQ 100 2022 edition. Each was asked the question, “how are you attracting, nurturing and retaining talent including talent from non-traditional backgrounds?” Answers were then standardised and aggregated to provide insights and common trends.

Lessons and experiences from the DataIQ 100

Recruiting from non-traditional backgrounds

Just over half (51%) of responders recognise the importance of recruiting from non-traditional backgrounds and the benefits that can come to analytical and data programmes as a result of applying a lens of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Major George McCrea, chief of staff for the Headquarters Royal Engineers (Geographic), National Centre for Geospatial Intelligence (NCGI), sees the benefits first-hand: “Civil servants in both NCGI and the military component come from fantastically diverse academic, cultural, nationality, gender and ethnic backgrounds. This diversity helps to reduce groupthink and enables a highly varied approach to problem-solving that really puts NCGI at the forefront of geospatial data support and analysis.”

It is a point seconded by Lorenzo Bavasso, global director of data and AI, digital at BT Group: “Diversity makes the ideas flow and it is a crucial ingredient for success, especially in data and AI where we want to remove that confirmation bias and think differently, looking at complex problems from different perspectives.”

Attracting and recruiting talent from non-traditional backgrounds can be a significant challenge, so several of the DataIQ 100 are successfully working with specialist third-party organisations who support those from diverse and non-traditional backgrounds as a route to recruitment. Issi Saumtally used this technique when recruiting in his former role as chief data officer at the Cabinet Office; “We have spent a huge amount on creating alternative diversity pipelines and created a really interesting and productive relationship with CodeFirstGirls to enable more gender representation in STEM skills.”

He continues “They have also done really well in supporting that with good ethnic diversity and lower income representation. We are really impressed and excited by this relationship and look forward to doing much more with the organisation.”

Those on the vendor side also see the potential of candidates from non-traditional backgrounds. Margaret Wagner, president at Merkle EMEA, explained: “Our recent partnership with RefugeeForce aims to hire, train and support former refugees with new careers in Salesforce. We have a similar partnership with Bring Women Back to Work supporting return-to-work parents who have taken a break to raise a family. We also support ex-military with their transition into Salesforce.”

Merkle is attempting to create a level playing field for these new recruits in data, she said: “For entry level positions, we have removed the need to have a degree and are piloting the removal of resumé screening altogether in favour of capability assessments to remove bias and maximise our talent pool.”

The challenge of the current data talent marketplace

A significant proportion of respondents (27%) commented on the demanding market for data skills which is causing difficulties for some. Paul Lodge, chief data officer, Department for Work and Pensions, said the DWP is one such organisation: “I am sure we are not alone in finding this incredibly hard. The expectation and demand placed on our data teams is bigger than it has ever been, we are working in an environment where the pool of experienced people is small, and where the market is buoyant.”

Adebayosoye Awonaike, head of data at Legal and General Capital, explained that the shortage of resource may be starting early in education: “In a study by Microsoft, only 8% of fresh graduates in the UK have studied a computational degree (eg, statistics, mathematics, computer science, etc) – the degrees that could naturally help meet the demand to fill the skills shortage in the data, digital and overall tech space.”

The skills shortage not only affects the supply of new data talent. Retention is also becoming more challenging as career paths open across the market. Simon James Gratton, chief data officer at Three, is seeing the issue first hand: “The data career market is absolutely rampant right now. I think every business, however large or small, is experiencing retention issues, especially in niche skills such as data engineering, data science and cloud transformation.”

Kinnari Ladha, chief data officer at IAG Loyalty, sees the issue as an opportunity to focus on other differentiators: “Today, the power of data and analytics is at the heart of business decision-making and no industry is immune to the exceptional growth opportunity that world-class data and analytics brings. So, suddenly there is a huge market demand for this talent in every industry. It challenges us to think about why a data and analytics professional would want to join our club and what makes IAG Loyalty different.” 

Graduate and apprenticeship recruitment

Many organisations are looking to “grow their own talent” with 17% of the DataIQ 100 running either graduate recruitment or apprenticeship training schemes. Such schemes enable those organisations which are capable of providing the right training and support with a broader ability to develop their teams from all backgrounds.

Pedro Cosa-Fernandez, general manager, data at News UK, clearly sees the benefits: “We are very lucky to benefit from the excellent apprenticeship programme at News UK and at the moment we have three two-year long apprenticeships in our team. Our apprentices receive on-the-job training, mentoring and coaching with experienced and talented staff. They rotate across several data teams in the hub, so they get a good exposure of the function.”

Using graduate and apprenticeship schemes can never be a quick fix, as Davin Crowley-Sweet, chief data officer at National Highways, noted: “We have worked hard to bring in early talent to work within my team and on digitally-related schemes across the company. I am currently working with HR on an action plan to have an early talent pipeline of 100-plus graduates and apprentices on digitally-related schemes with us over the next three years.”

Romit Sen, commercial, finance and transformation business partner at British Airways, is taking the idea of graduate recruitment one step further with short work experience opportunities: “For new talent, we have a well-established graduate programme which has been a great way for people to enter the industry. I have also been exploring summer placements for low-income household students with STEM backgrounds, which would give students new opportunities to experience the world of data science.”

Poaching talent from around the organisation

Larger organisations can actively recruit new talent internally by promoting the interesting and innovative work completed by their in-house data teams. This is a particular focus in financial services, with Hany Choueiri, chief data officer at Aldermore bank, explaining: “Communicating team successes, strategic plans and data challenges tend to be a great way to attract talent.”

This is backed up by Jon Hussey, head of data and strategic analytics for Barclays Payments, who added: “Data and analytic skills continue to be in hot demand. We also run a very successful internal DataFest campaign which showcases and encourages interactions and involvement from employees across all functions and departments. DataFest celebrates all things data innovation, data creativity and the art of the possible with data. This attracts interest and excitement across Payments and helps encourage internal talent moves.”

When it comes to retention, culture trumps it all

The single largest factor for retaining skilled data staff as revealed by our 2022 DataIQ 100 was “company culture and management style” with 28% of responses agreeing that providing the right cultural environment for data and analytics staff was vital. Openness and the ability for analysists and scientists to explore new ideas were emphasised as critically important for staff retention.

Gratton explained what makes this work at Three: “Our approach blends flexible hybrid working, regular rotations that diversify team skills, time for self-learning and certification and, most importantly, developing an inclusive, collaborative and fun culture across our wider data communities.”

Richard Pugh, chief data scientist at Ascent, is following a similar path: “The culture of the organisation plays a significant role in our ability to retain talent, with a focus on people and ongoing training. Our work also means we are able to provide a great variety of opportunities to our people across a range of industries and businesses, which gives people new challenges and experiences.”

The right culture allows for interesting work

Alongside, or perhaps as a part of, providing the right culture, the nature of the work available is also extremely important for retaining the interest of talented individuals. Twenty-three percent of those surveyed cited “exciting or innovative projects” and providing “leading-edge” applications and technology as important in attracting and retaining data professionals.

Lester Berry, director of analytics and data science at John Lewis Partnership, demonstrated just how important this can be in today’s challenging market: “In retail, while our salaries are competitive, we cannot pay as much as banks or several other organisations. What we can do though is offer interesting, varied and rewarding work, a strong focus on personal development and a supportive, honest and encouraging spirit within the team.”

It is a similar story at the British Medical Journal from head of data, David Hutcheson: “We have been able to nurture and retain our staff by ensuring that the work they do is meaningful and that it has a visible impact on the business.”

Providing a real challenge, breaking new ground and innovating appears to be a huge driver for analytical roles, something that Natalia Lyarskaya, chief data officer at ZestMoney, made very clear: “Data professionals are often drawn to innovation – they want to be a part of it, to drive it. First and foremost, the way we at ZestMoney attract data talent is by demonstrating and ensuring that the company is pushing the boundaries of data analytics, AI and machine learning. Nothing is more engaging than a real challenge.”

Structured career paths + exciting work = retention

Twenty percent of the DataIQ 100 said a structured career plan for data and analytics staff is a key factor in nurturing and retaining data professionals. Steph Bell, head of analytics, Sainsbury’s, is a fan: “The focus of my team will always be on enabling colleagues to have careers that challenge them, give them breadth and grow their experience. Personal development plans and training are a huge part of that.”

Christina Finlay, director of data and analytics at Nest Corporation, sees such structured pathways as vital for her future plans: “I’m also working on a professional career path framework to ensure that our in-house talent sees how they can further develop themselves at Nest, which will be key to nurturing and retaining our talent.”

Structured development paths do not just benefit the individual, as Dave Warder, head of data, insight and analytics UK&I, The Adecco Group, explains: “It’s so important to focus on the development of individuals in the department as they are absolutely vital to success. I put clear pathways for progression in place during 2021, supporting both future leaders and technical experts. A skills framework with levels of expectation is a great tool for managers to identify opportunities for learning, and for individuals to understand where they should focus. This can be smoothly integrated into resourcing decisions to give experience.”

Academies help attract and retain

Several of the 2022 DataIQ 100 have recognised how providing internal academies or building relationships with external academia helps with nurturing and retaining data and analytical talent. Carlo Nebuloni, chief data officer at AXA UK and Ireland, explained how it works: “In the very competitive market of data talent, it has become more and more difficult to recruit and retain skilled data professionals…the academy and technical training offering plays a key role in attracting and retaining talent, with the understanding that they can grow their skills and expertise with us.”

Hemanth Prabakaran, executive director, head data analytics and insights at Standard Chartered Bank Singapore, uses academic relationships to take individuals beyond their internal training: “Our focus on building a high-performance data and analytics team is driven by…enhancing partnerships with universities to create data analytics career development paths for early career talents and offering roles post the completion of their on-job learning period.”

Brand and package only take you so far

Several DataIQ 100 organisations see their overall brand as an attractor of new talent. However, while this can attract people to the organisation, it is also notable that career paths combined with interesting work are still likely to be the primary drivers of retention. Matt Lovell, global director of data and insight at Pret a Manger, made the point clearly: “Pret is such an iconic brand when it comes to recruiting talent to join our strong team. In terms of nurturing and retaining people, the key component for me is around ensuring that everyone is given the opportunity to develop, both technically and in terms of softer skills, and by ensuring that everyone can see that what they are doing contributes to us driving Pret’s future success.”

Interestingly, salary or package was only mentioned by a couple of respondents as a positive factor for recruitment. It is a given in this heated market that salaries are more than competitive right now. But it is notable that other aspects like culture and interesting work appear to trump salary when it comes to making and keeping a role attractive.

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