One of the most significant changes brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic is the shift in the way people will live and work, says Dr Yudhvir Seetharam, head of analytics, insights and research: FNB Business.
And with technology and digitisation central to this shifting dynamic, Seetharam said that the role of data scientists in enabling and informing business strategy has never been greater or more important.
Data science has been a big part of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic to date, with the interpretation of big data integral to understanding the dynamics of the disease and its spread, and likewise, businesses leveraging data to better understand the needs and wants of clients.
“Against this backdrop, one would be forgiven for assuming that data scientists now pretty much have built-in job security,” said Dr Seetharam.
“However, while it’s true that jobs in the data science realm will probably be more readily available and more secure than many other positions over the next few years, this doesn’t necessarily mean that a data science qualification automatically guarantees you a comfortable and secure career.”
No jobs are 100% secure in the current economic environment, he said.
As second waves of the virus begin to take hold across the world, many industries continue to face severe challenges, and companies of all shapes and sizes will be required to take whatever steps they can to avoid bankruptcy.
For many companies in the current climate, the goal is to avoid bankruptcy, which could include layoffs and retrenchments, and the likes of data scientists, analysts and engineers are by no means immune.
However, Dr Seetharam noted that data science was a good career choice long before the ravages of Covid-19, “and it will almost certainly continue to be after the virus has been dealt with or brought under control”.
Payscale data shows that the average salary for a data scientist in South Africa is R432,310.
However, as with any career decision, Dr Seetharam said it is essential for a prospective data scientist to consider more than just a conducive environment when making the choice to pursue a data-focused career path, whether that is a first career or a change in existing profession.
“One of the most important considerations is that, as companies are being forced to take a far more cost-sensitive approach to the way they operate, they will increasingly be looking to get more bang for every buck they spend.
“Talent is no exception, and many organisations will be focused on bringing only the best skills into the business or drawing from their existing talent pool rather than looking outside it.”
What’s more, where more value can be achieved by outsourcing data analytics, there’s a strong possibility that businesses will do that in order to lower the cost to company often associated with having to employ large teams of in-house data experts, he said.
“Obviously, this means that there may well be significant opportunities for aspiring data scientists to join fintech’s and other data services providers, but competition for these positions is still likely to be fierce,” Dr Seetharam warned.
However, he said that the changes brought about by Covid-19 mean that undertaking, or switching to, a career in a data science field is likely to provide the individual with numerous opportunities in the years to come.
Future growth in demand for data scientists is inextricably linked to economic and industry forward momentum and the ability of businesses to once again reach a position of sustainable growth.
For most, Dr Seetharam said, the data scientists they already have will certainly be instrumental in getting them to that position.
“But it’s likely that only once most arrive there, they will start to seriously and actively look to build those data science teams by means of external recruitment.
“While it’s not possible to say exactly when that will be for every business, it’s almost certain that the day will come – at which point the supply of qualified, well-rounded, business-minded data scientists is unlikely to be able to keep up with global demand.”