AI, data skills gap: How to attract, build and keep your top talent

Lungile Msomi
By Lungile Msomi, ITWeb journalist
Johannesburg, 14 Mar 2024
Panel discussion at the 2024 ITWeb BI Summit. From left to right: Jay Naidoo, Iwan Rynders, Ncumisa Hlapo and Dominic Albrecht.
Panel discussion at the 2024 ITWeb BI Summit. From left to right: Jay Naidoo, Iwan Rynders, Ncumisa Hlapo and Dominic Albrecht.

As demand for data and artificial intelligence (AI) expertise skyrockets, the skills gap widens. Businesses must find and keep top talent to stay competitive. This was the message from experts during a panel discussion at the 2024 ITWeb BI Summit in Johannesburg this week.

The panel discussion highlighted the evolving skillset needed for successful data analytics and AI teams.This includes a blend of technical skills like SQL and statistics, alongside soft skills like understanding business problems, working with ambiguity, and effective communication.

Ncumisa Hlapo, senior manager: data insights at Medscheme, emphasised the need for continuous skill development and adaptation.

"The tech landscape is constantly changing, requiring different approaches for different organisations. While technical skills remain crucial, data professionals must also possess strong soft skills, like understanding business problems, context, and strategy."

Jay Naidoo, business intelligence manager at Nedgroup Investments, added that domain knowledge and technical expertise are still essential in data analysis. However, with the rise of generative AI, creativity is also needed for effective data storytelling and adapting insights and narratives to the unique needs of different business contexts.

The discussion shifted to strategies for finding and retaining the right talent. Iwan Rynders, head of analytics and business intelligence at Moyo, outlined his organisation's approach: focus on clear values to attract top minds, invest in ongoing upskilling, and prioritise building a strong internal talent pipeline.

"With a limited talent pool, nurturing our own talent is crucial," Rynders explained. "We engage with universities to identify promising individuals, invest in their development through graduate programmes and continuous upskilling. This reinvestment strengthens the broader talent ecosystem."

The discussion highlighted how organisations can ensure their most talented individuals feel valued and see a clear path for growth within the company. 

Hlapo pointed out that keeping employees happy not only prevents costly turnover but also plays a vital role in building a positive employer brand. “When your team is doing well they become brand champions that advocate for your brand. This also helps attract more top talent,” she said.

Naidoo said talent retention is rooted in understanding each person's individual values, and it's the responsibility of business leaders to truly understand the people in their company.

“Once you get to know your people, you can understand their personal values and [see how they] align with the company's values and your team's values. So if you want to create a high performance team, that's where you start,” concluded Naidoo.