By Lauren Sydoruk

  • Over 32,000 people employed full-time in data science in WA
  • 93% of organisations rank data science as vital for their future
  • Urgent demand for “citizen data scientists” to grow capability

The Data science sector is predicted to undergo significant growth in Western Australia, underpinned by State Government investment in the industry, according to a new report by KPMG Australia and Faethm, commissioned by the Western Australian Data Science Innovation Hub (WADSIH) based at Curtin University.

The WADSIH, an initiative of the McGowan State Government, was established to enable the application of data science for the benefit of all Western Australians. It is jointly funded by the State Government’s New Industries Fund and Curtin University.

The report identified 32,034 full-time employees in data science in WA, with a 63:37 male: female gender split. Most of these work in professional, scientific and technical industries, followed by public administration and safety, and financial and insurance services.

All organisations interviewed envisioned their data science team growing, with some expecting to double or triple the size of their team within the next five years. One organisation envisioned a future where “every team will have a data scientist in it”. Some of the current or envisioned industry applications for data science in WA include:

  • Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing – digital soil and crop mapping in combination with disease detection and pest management
  • Mining – prediction and optimisation across many business areas from HR to heavy machinery
  • Construction – construction simulation, design issue prediction and warranty analysis

WADSIH Director Dr Liz Dallimore said: “The State Government, along with Curtin University, supports the WA Data Science Innovation Hub (WADSIH) to provide a focal point for industry to work together to accelerate the uptake of data science in Western Australia. This report highlights the enormous potential that data science can bring to WA and the state economy, and the steps we need to take to ensure we capitalise on the opportunities. WADSIH will continue to work across industry, academia and government to ensure we have the right skills, effective collaboration and knowledge transfer across the WA data science ecosystem.”

The report also highlights several barriers within the industry. These include a lack of executive awareness of the value of data science, issues with access to infrastructure, bureaucracy, the need for greater coordination across sectors and access to data science talent.

The search for the right talent is often global, according to the companies surveyed. This is due to the fact that the required data science talent needed to have that combination of statistics and mathematics, domain knowledge, communication and analytical skills, and finding this combination within Australia is extremely difficult.

Greg Miller, Executive Director, Faethm, said: “Overall the results are very encouraging, indicating a healthy industry that’s preparing for immense growth and transformation. But it’s notable that the occupation of data scientist is not yet listed within the ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) occupation classification. Data science is still perceived as a very new and not often well understood discipline in the wider economy, but demand for data scientists is growing. To avoid the industry being held back by a skills shortage, there will need to be investment in education and training, as well as wider awareness of the role and its value to the future of Western Australia and the nation as a whole.”

The report identifies the next steps for Western Australian industry, academia and government to take such as:

  • Build out local data science capabilities using both home grown and international talent
  • Adopt a data science capability framework
  • Encourage a basic understanding and competence of data science skills
  • Evolve a range of educational pathways
  • Build innovative partnership models with academic institutions and industry
  • WADSIH should continue to act as a “go-between” for industry and academia
  • Ensure knowledge from the industry is leveraged.

James Arnott, Partner, KPMG Australia, commented: “Western Australia is uniquely positioned to capitalise on the opportunities that data science can bring to the State through its comparative advantage in key industries including resources, agriculture, space and health, amongst others. The use of data to solve complex business and societal challenges is becoming a key advantage for many territories around the world, and WA must ensure that it has the required skills and collaboration to take advantage of this – for the benefit of all Western Australians.”

The full report is available on the WADSIH website.