Upskilling and Reskilling to Overcome Data Science Skills Shortage

7 min read ·

Nov 21

Shaun Dippnall

VP, Enterprise AI

Across the world, there is a growing shortage of data science skills in businesses. According to the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in 2020, “As jobs are transformed by the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we need to reskill more than 1 billion people worldwide by 2030.”

In South Africa, the unemployment situation is critical. According to a recent PWC report, the country’s failing education system has resulted in eight out of 10 unemployed adults having some secondary schooling, including matric, and one in 10 unemployed people in South Africa having a tertiary qualification. This totals as many as 750 000 in 2022.

At the same time, ironically, there is a critical shortage of specific skills, which is holding back economic growth. Studies show that one particular skill shortage is in the broad sphere of data science, and four of the top 10 ‘future jobs’ in South Africa are specifically tech-oriented. These are cloud engineers, data scientists, development and IT operations engineers, and data engineers.

The conclusion reached in the PWC report is that upskilling workers (together with a solution to the electricity crisis and accelerating private sector investment) could be one of the most important drivers of GDP and job growth. It concludes, “Companies can help turn this crisis into an opportunity by upskilling their workers. Upskilling and workforce investment need to be anchored as a core business principle.”

According to Shaun Dippnall, co-founder of Sand Academy and Head of Enterprise AI, the academy was established in 2017 with the aim of training young data scientists in a 12 -month data science learnership. “This program continues successfully, but as the need for data science skills has grown, our focus has broadened to upskilling and reskilling people across all levels of businesses,” he says. “Because data science is a journey and not a destination, executives need to look at the twin focus areas of upskilling and reskilling. These may sound similar, but they are not. There needs to be a continuous, planned upskilling and reskilling strategy across the entire company.”

Generically speaking, research into upskilling across an economy shows that to improve the quality of and access to education and training, a change in culture and behavior is needed, including an immediate shift to lifelong learning pathways, growth in digital education and new funding models for higher education.

Sand Academy offers the option to build bespoke courses that address the specific technology upskilling and reskilling needs of each client.

Upskilling focuses on teaching new skills at all levels and includes:

  • Strategic briefings to senior executives.
  • Hands-on interventions in all areas of management: line managers, production managers, accountants, logistics, marketing, and HR personnel.
  • Building a pipeline of external talent to feed into the business.


Reskilling, by contrast, “requires everyone within the business to understand that learning data science is a process, not a destination. Technology is changing all the time and employees need to have a hunger to learn, resulting in a constant process of absorbing new skills,” says Dippnall.

Sand Academy approaches data science training, upskilling, and reskilling at several levels and with specific interventions. Its 12-month data science learnership covers Python, regression, Power BI, statistics, mathematics, communication, problem-solving, Pandas and Scikit-learn. The learnership is incorporated into the student’s normal job and the skills taught are real-world orientated and focused on company-specific problems.

There are also part-time courses and so-called bootcamps on offer. The part-time courses are primarily technical – including coding and visualization, databases, cloud, and deployment – but aspects of problem-solving, working in teams and solving real-world problems on the job are included. Bootcamps offer a range of specialized skills programs aimed at different levels within an organization. Lasting from one to three days, these are designed for upskilling employees, including data scientists, data users and members of management.”

Dippnall concludes: “With both the year-long course and the bootcamp courses available, learning and development managers can work with Sand Academy to advance their company’s in-house data capabilities and become part of the worldwide trend to build skills that will cope with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The strategy should specifically focus on the twin areas of upskilling and reskilling. And with the option of building bespoke courses, specific needs of the company can be successfully addressed.”


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