The queen of the UK’s data industry, Edwina Dunn, says there needs to be a cultural shift in society to tackle the stigma associated with studying “spoddy” subjects, like science, engineering and maths, if the country is to fully exploit the rise of big data.
Citing government predictions that by 2017 the big data industry will have boosted the UK economy by £216bn and created 58,000 new jobs, Dunn warned that there is still a long road ahead.
Writing in the Huffington Post, the co-founder of DunnHumby – the firm which changed the face of data-driven marketing forever – described the replacement of ICT in schools with a new “computing” curriculum, as a step in the right direction.
She added: “But we must ensure that more of our universities are offering data science and programming courses. And for those that currently are, they must guarantee that the skills they offer are relevant to today’s workplace and of real value to employers.”
And Dunn believes the change must go beyond the classroom. “Our attitude towards computer science and data analysis needs to change. Old stereotypes need to be softened and the cultural stigma associated with STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) industries dispensed with. We must reinforce the fact that studying science or maths opens up an enormous range of job opportunities.”
She also bemoaned the gender divide in the sector, citing the fact that women make up 46% of the UK workforce but (excluding medicine) just 17% of the STEM workforce.
Dunn added: “Data science has never been so powerful and accessible. But only with greater confidence from our industries in the benefits, coupled with equipping more young people with the relevant skills, will the potential of the big data revolution ever be fully realised. We must not let this opportunity pass.”
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