With the ongoing data revolution, the world calls for statistical experts. But what kinds of experts does the field of statistics need? The directors of Eurostat and OECD’s Directorate of Statistics draw a picture of their employees today, as well as envision the future statistician.
Statisticians have awoken to the rise of the data revolution and the related business expectations, as the significance of not only statisticians but also of data scientists and analysts is growing on the labour market. For example, in the United States the demand for data professionals – along with the importance of data occupations in the U.S. Economy – has clearly risen in certain fields.
To respond to the change, we hear statisticians call for skills crossing the boundaries between sciences. ”The next generation must include more researchers with skills that cross the traditional boundaries of statistics, databases, and distributed systems; there will be an ever-increasing demand for such “multi-lingual” experts”, the American Statistical Association ASA formulates the future multi-skilled expert.
At the same time, data and methodological statistical skills do not alone suffice. Socio-economical scientific knowledge and broad understanding of society are considered essential, too.
So how does the world of international statistics see the change and envision the future? We asked Walter Radermacher, the Director General of Eurostat, and Martine Durand, the Director General of OECD’ Statistics Directorate, to expose the educational background of their employees at present, and to foresee future demands and means for redirecting skills.
Photos by Eurostat and OECD
How are your employees divided by educational background today? (numbers and % shares)
Eurostat’s current workforce comprises 833 staff members, around half of whom work in statistical jobs. Fifty-five per cent of staff occupy positions that require a University degree. Additionally, a large number of jobs that do not require such a level of education are also occupied by university graduates.
As a Directorate General of the European Commission, Eurostat recruits from a pool of candidates who have passed a competition of the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO). The European Commission generally aims at recruiting people with strong transferable competencies adapted to the working environment of the institutions of the European Union, rather than specialists. Therefore, these competitions concern broad fields such as public administration, economics, finance or ICT. Eurostat then selects suitable persons with statistics-related profiles among the successful candidates.
To ensure a pool of possible candidates with a statistical background, Eurostat encourages EPSO to organise competitions that contain such a profile. Last year a specialist competition in law, corporate finance, financial economics, industrial economics, and macroeconomics was designed, responding partly to the recruitment needs of Eurostat.
However, it is relatively rare that EPSO organises competitions for the area of statistics. The last one took place in 2012.
In order to satisfy its need for specialist know-how, Eurostat can organise a selection of temporary agents in a well-defined area. The last such selection took place in 2013 in the area of national accounts and government finance statistics. The successful candidates are, however not eligible for permanent posts in Eurostat and their stay is limited in time.
In practice, most of our current statistical officers have a university degree in statistics, economics, mathematics, finance, social sciences or IT.
Of the 80 or so staff comprising the categories of Senior Executives, Policy Researchers/Analysts; and IT Systems Analysts, the following educational background is found:
- Advanced University degree (Masters or higher) in Economics, Econometrics or Statistics, or equivalent qualification (41%)
- Advanced University degree in a scientific field: (7%)
- University degree or equivalent qualification in economics, statistics or IT: 52%
What will the situation be in 2030? Why is it so?
As Eurostat expects a shift towards more conceptual work, we expect that the share of positions requiring a university degree will increase. Additionally, and in line with the ESS Vision 2020, we expect that there will be a shift towards new knowledge and competencies to meet the needs of the future and that new job profiles will emerge.
One example of such a new profile is the "iStatistician" or "Data Scientist" who combines both a statistical and IT profile and specialises in Big Data, open data, cloud data and data from administrative sources. Other needs include the "Warehouse Quality Guardian" focusing on warehouse data, and the "Statistical Auditor" who would deal with statistical audits and labelling of official statistics.
Similar changes can be expected for statistical assistants too, those staff who are not technically required to have a university degree. For example, the future statistical assistant will have a bigger role in working towards standardised processes and products, analysing the potential of statistical sources in combination with other sources, advising on data for multi-functional use from the data warehouse, or visualising results for dissemination using multimedia as well as writing for the web.
We do not expect great fluctuations in the number of overall staff; however, we are ourselves striving to achieve a higher ratio of advanced university qualifications – and/or more diverse experiences – compared to traditional, 1st level educational backgrounds.
This is due to the evolving nature of our work towards more analytical products. We need to continuously understand and respond to evolving and complex policy needs and concerns that require the development of new metrics and more granular and timely data and indicators.
There’s also a need to harness with agility evolving data sources and uses of data in innovative ways; making the most of the emergence of more efficient and sophisticated data management tools that will require less resources.
How will you handle the change?
Apart from recruiting staff with different skills to match future needs and profiles, continuous training of our staff is and will remain of utmost importance. Eurostat is adapting the training programme for its own staff to future trends and emerging demands. As an example, new courses, e.g., on data mining and on data matching have been designed to develop the advanced skills required of a Data Scientist.
In addition, the European Statistical Training Programme organised by Eurostat to meet the specific training needs of the European Statistical System will slowly be adapted to the challenges of the data revolution, the need to measure a more complex reality and the growing need for indicators to monitor quantitative policy targets.
Furthermore, in 2014 Eurostat launched the European Master in Official Statistics (EMOS). This is a joint project between universities and data producers, where the main objective is to develop a programme for training and education in official statistics within existing European Master programmes.
In May 2015, twelve Master programmes across Europe received the EMOS label, and the Master Studies in Statistics at the University of Helsinki is one of them. A next step will be to see how EMOS can be used to train staff already working in the European Statistical System.
In many cases, we will seek to achieve these changes through staff turnover and new recruitment.
We will also, however, invest in training our current staff on developing 1) conceptual skills, to develop a better understanding of the underlying frameworks and theoretical basis for accounting structures, as well as the concepts behind data and the related policy issues; 2) analytical skills, to develop a stronger capacity to produce statistics which are methodologically sound and fit for purpose; 3) communication skills, to be able to identify key messages with policy and statistical relevance and communicate those messages in a precise, unambiguous manner; and 4) specific IT and programming skills, where needed.
We foresee several methods to assist staff in developing these competencies:
- Classical technical training, for developing specific IT or programming skills;
- More targeted seminars or specific group training, soliciting expertise from other OECD Directorates to inform or train on various economic or econometric topics;
- Mentoring and guidance, including on cross-directorate projects;
- Promoting self-learning (and providing resources);
- Making use of the Performance management system;
- Secondments and short-term experts, to provide the needed technical expertise on a particular project (or programme or methodology) and to provide training to staff members.
And whose (business, politics, science, governance) data interests will the change serve?
The change will serve the interests of all our clients, be it other services of the European Commission, the European Central Bank, other EU, international or national institutions, as well as the media and the general public. All the users of our data need high-quality statistics presented in an interactive and user-friendly manner. To be able to deliver this, Eurostat needs high-quality, multi-talented and flexible staff.
These changes will serve the data interests of the policy analysts of the Organisation to inform the analysis of the main – and emerging – increasingly inter-connected, complex and multi-dimensional – socio-economic issues; and will also serve the interests of the international statistical community at large.
More about the same topic, including the views of Statistics Finland's Director General Marjo Bruun, in the printed publication (1/2016) that will be published on 3 March.