Article by: Emma Foster | 02:00pm August 16 2021
Meggy Chung, Westpac’s general manager of data platforms, has a multi-pronged approach to addressing the data skills shortage. (Supplied)
If you’re already proficient when it comes to working with data, you’ll know your skills are in hot demand.
But even if you’re not, doors to data-related jobs are swinging wide open.
It’s a phenomenon spurred by companies the world over attempting to keep pace with the digitisation of everyday interactions, propelled into warp speed since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out.
“It’s a super exciting time, but it’s become a huge issue to find the right skill set,” says Jana Marlé-Zizková, chief executive and co-founder of the global data training community, She Loves Data.
“COVID has sped up in an extreme way not only how people consume, but how they communicate, search, interact – where digitalisation is playing an enormous role. Organisations are needing to adapt, not just their hiring processes but to support the constant upskilling of their people in working with data.”
It’s a challenge Meggy Chung knows well.
Since joining Westpac as general manager of the bank’s data platforms in February last year just as the pandemic began, Chung saw competition for talent heat up even more as skilled migration to Australia ground to a halt.
“Even when borders open, Australia will still have a skills shortage, more so than other parts of the world,” says Chung, who joined the bank from Singapore where she spent six years with Citibank, most recently leading its data services team.
In fact, research by Deloitte Access Economics and RMIT has found Australia needs 156,000 new technology workers in the five years to 2025 to ensure economic growth is not harmed. Globally, Korn Ferry has estimated the shortage of tech workers will represent $8.5 trillion in lost annual revenue in the decade to 2030.
Chung, who previously also worked in the UK at Barclays and Accenture, is taking a multi-pronged approach to tackle the challenge of augmenting her team to deliver on the bank’s growing pipeline of data-led projects, which she estimates will require up to 200 people over the next two years.
Besides throwing her hiring net wider to include talent in non-banking industries, she says her priorities are to rebalance her team so the majority of roles are held by permanent staff rather than vendors, build internal capability so those staff step into the more advanced data roles, and promote the idea that working in data doesn’t always mean you need a data degree.
“I have yet to speak to someone who can’t find a way into data,” she says.
“You can have an operational background, a risk background, work in reporting, analytics, marketing technology, or project delivery – they are all skills you can leverage. If people want to get into data, then chances are I will have a role somewhere.”
To help this mindset shift, Chung has spearheaded a set of initiatives, some aligned closely with her fervent commitment to getting more women into the male-dominated domain.
She’s set up “Data Gals”, an employee-led “tribe” to inspire more women across the bank to make a career shift; and partnered with global organisations with a similar mission, such as She Loves Data, a group Chung first partnered with in 2018 when at Citibank in Singapore.
New data education programs are also being rolled out for bank staff, including “tech talks” for general managers and a four-part series for interested members of the bank’s employee “clubs”, such as the 3000-plus members of under 35s professional development group The Youth Network, covering everything from how to use tools like Tableau to what the future holds for machine learning.
And to increase the bottom-up pipeline of highly sought advanced analytics skills, Chung is dialing up the bank’s focus on university graduates, adding a new data-specific stream to the bank’s existing graduate program, complementing other initiatives such as Westpac’s Young Technologist scholarship program.
“We want these graduates, not just because they come out with data skills, but because the younger generation sees data differently,” Chung says. “They intuitively know more about how and why data can be used by people and what the possibilities are.”
But, Microsoft digital advisor, Ashton Bridge, says it’s tough to interest younger people into data-centric careers – and convince them they can do the job.
“It’s all about painting a picture for what careers really look like, even if you haven’t obtained those hard technical skills, like coding,” says Bridge, who will be part of a data panel later this week for Westpac staff.
Bridge’s path to Microsoft is a case in point.
Having started her career as a laboratory assistant, working on autopsies in a hospital morgue, with aspirations to become a coroner, she says she shifted to tech after a project to overhaul the lab’s pathology IT system, and never looked back.
“I’m not a deep technical expert; I rely on people with that expertise,” Bridge says.
“My job is to bridge the gap between them and the business I’m advising to help solve their business problems. I found out I could apply my knowledge and experience into the tech world, and learn on the job, without following the traditional university path.”
Marlé-Zizková says organisations like She Loves Data play an important role in building potential candidates’ “competence, confidence and leadership” – across both soft skills (like project management) and hard skills (like coding and statistical modeling) – through a series of education workshops and webinars. Since founding the not-for-profit in Singapore in 2016, she says more than 14,000 women have taken part in training in 17 countries, including Australia.
The group also connects job-ready candidates with opportunities through “recruitment fairs”, virtual events where hiring managers showcase roles while candidates showcase their skills – a mechanism Chung says Westpac soon plans to adopt as part of its partnership with She Loves Data.
Chung says these initiatives go much deeper than simply recruiting talent for her data platforms area.
“We are on a mission to transform Westpac into a data driven organisation,” she says.
“And to do so, the whole of Westpac needs to become more data literate, so that people, for example, those in operational roles, can imagine and use data differently to improve their everyday work.”
Emma Foster is deputy editor of Westpac Wire. Prior to joining Westpac in 2013, she was a freelance writer, after spending almost 20 years in corporate affairs and investor relations, primarily in large financial services and consultancy firms, in Australia, UK, and Europe. She is also an aspiring photographer.
Our Origin Story
It all started with a simple question: Where were the women? When Jana Marlé-Zizková and Pavel Bulowski went to work meetings or events in the tech industry, the other attendees were often men. They discovered that many women had a lot of enthusiasm and interest in data analytics and related areas. Yet, not everyone knew how to get started or access community support. This inspired the first workshop on data analytics for women in 2016. In the face of the overwhelming response, one workshop led to another, and then to many more. She Loves Data was born.
As a community, we commit to the belief that women have many talents, virtues, and values to bring to the table. This bears out in our very own logo, which is based on the Coxcomb chart. Florence Nightingale famously used the chart to explain the preventable deaths of soldiers during the Crimean war. She later led the sanitation reform of British hospitals. Just as Nightingale used data to create change, so too can more women become active contributors to a data-driven world. Pam Ooms, our volunteer who designed the logo, felt that Nightingale’s story fitted very well with She Loves Data’s purpose and wanted to borrow design elements from the Coxcomb chart.
Today, 200 years from Florence Nightingale’s time, she continues to inspire as a role model. We also find ourselves in the midst of a crisis, where the need for data literacy and digital skills is more urgent. We are forced to adapt to disruptive changes and in many instances, shift from the physical to the virtual. One silver lining is that the transition has led She Loves Data to create our first webinars, and we’re able to reach more people. At the same time, our community focus remains core.
It’s important that women building skills in tech don’t feel like they are on this journey alone. We understand that it can be tricky to build this feeling of community and sense of belonging online. There is no easy solution, but we can continue to support each other with friendly exchanges in our Facebook and LinkedIn groups. She Loves Data also continues to expand. We’re building local tribes and partnerships in places from Armenia to Vietnam so that more women can benefit from our work. We hope you keep safe and stay strong.