Growing your Own – the natural antidote to the Data Talent Shortage

This article was written by Robin Huggins, Director of Academy & Client Services for MBN Solutions

Following the success of 2016/17’s Data Lab MSc Placement Programme, the challenge for us was simple: How to deliver “Bigger & Better” results.

2017’s Programme increased in size and complexity with student and participating University numbers growing.
Last year’s results were spectacular – almost 50 students placed into dissertation-worthy Industrial Placements with Scottish organisations. Over 75% of these students immediately securing permanent roles with their summer “host company” or similar Scottish organisations.

How do we improve on that?

The process began late in 2017 with a team from MBN Solutions visiting each of the participating MSc. courses to deliver Employability training under our MBN Academy #MBNSkills banner.

We’ve been working with students for a number of years now so are well versed in delivering a balance of factual and fun based activities designed to achieve one objective: Improve the soft skills, domain expertise and Employability prospects of each student we engage with.

Following our tour of the campuses of Scotland we then worked on an individual basis with students to understand their Placement preferences.

Then, we moved on to the tiny matter of generating enough projects for this group of students to be placed into.

Did we mention there were over 100 Data Lab funded students this year?

Ok, a considerable amount of these students indicated that they’d be more interested in University-based projects, but that still left a large number – based on projections from last year’s Programme - we estimated at least 70 would require an Industrial Placement. How this was to be achieved was a combination of inspiration, perspiration and, to be frank, some desperation!

It’s “hats off” time, now – and we’d like to thank the amazing organisations that we’ve been privileged to work with over the last few months. In a exercise of this nature, without the support of the Scottish business community, our and Data Lab’s efforts would be fruitless.

There are too many to mention each and every one by name in this blog but thanks to Scottish Government, NHS National Shared Services, Wood McKenzie, NCR, Merkle Aquila, Mudano, VShips, Scottish Enterprise and Scottish Power who all agreed to host more than 1 student this summer.

Roger Halliday, Chief Statistician and Data Officer at Scottish Government said

We’re delighted to be taking on 5 people as part of their data science MSc this year. My ambition is to systematically improve outcomes for people in Scotland with data: saving time, money and lives. Data Lab and MBN Solutions play an impressive role in ensuring we get high quality data scientists”.

So, the months between February and May of 2018 saw us frantically working to match students to projects, facilitating meetings and introductions, dealing with feedback and, most importantly, handing over each and every successful placement to The Data Lab.

The Scottish FinTech community stepped up to the plate in a huge way and I’d like to thank RBS, Clydesdale Bank, Sainsbury’s Bank, Royal London, Aberdeen Standard Investment, Tesco Bank and Lending Crowd for their support throughout this period.

We’re delighted that so many students will receive their first experience of commercial Data Science within these organisations and we are sure their experiences will contribute to a very bright future.

Sainsbury’s Bank Chief Data Officer, Mark Hunter wrote “

Sainsbury’s Bank is delighted to be participating in this year’s MSc placement project. It is really important for the future of Scotland’s data industry that our students get exposure to ‘real-world’ data projects and hopefully this experience fuels their desire to bring their skills to bear in Scotland after graduating. MBN have expertly managed the process of marrying our projects with the students who’ll benefit the most from the experience”.

So, with the Programme completed for another year, what did the results look like?

We are delighted to say that we exceeded last year’s total – and more than matched our initial projection for this year – with a total of 73 students securing Industrial Placements.

These students were placed with a variety of Scottish businesses; Start-Ups, large corporate organisations, SMEs and the public sector. Everyone played their part. From Aberdeen in the North, to Ayrshire in the South, students will be working on real-life Data Science projects throughout the summer that will greatly enhance their domain expertise and, ultimately, Employability prospects.

The last word?

We’ll leave that to one of the amazing students we were honoured to assist.

Kieran Kyle, an MSc. Student from the University of Strathclyde’s Data Analytics course said:

“The information provided at the Employability session was extremely helpful, not only for helping me find my placement, but also for carrying over into further job interviews. I managed to secure a placement with Standard Life, an incredible opportunity that I cannot thank Rob and the MBN team enough for, it is certainly something I would never have imagined just a few years ago”.