Data science skills demand fuels academy’s expansion

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 11 Jul 2019
Shaun Dippnall, co-founder of Explore Data Science Academy.
Shaun Dippnall, co-founder of Explore Data Science Academy.

Data science institution Explore Data Science Academy (EDSA) is expanding to KwaZulu-Natal, as the demand for data science skills grows at an exponential rate in SA.

The academy, currently based in Cape Town and Johannesburg, says Durban will be its third home, as it prepares to for its largest intake of students to date.

Reportedly the first institution in the country focused on data science skills, EDSA has ramped up its number of sponsored learnerships to 500 and is inviting applications for the 2020 cohort of students.

Applications opened this week for its 12-month SETA-accredited data science programme to commence in January.

The academy says it has seen a five-fold increase since it opened its doors in January 2018 and has placed 95% of its 2019 programme graduates in corporate positions.

EDSA co-founder Shaun Dippnall says the latest expansion was influenced by the burgeoning demand for data analytics skills in KwaZulu-Natal-based organisations.

“This represents and is indicative of local demand among South African corporates for data science and analytics skills, which currently far exceed supply.

“Recognising the value of qualified data science skills, many of SA’s leading corporate companies looking to digitise their operations and leverage big data have come on board to sponsor our training programmes,” Dippnall notes.

Founding sponsor BCX has invested R50 million over three years, while the country’s major banks have also made substantial investments.

The institution is the brainchild of founders Dippnall, Dave Strugnell and Aidan Helmbold, all highly-qualified data scientists with actuarial qualifications as well as experience in lecturing, research and consulting.

“We offer students a globally competitive faculty and a course which incorporates cutting-edge training material, leveraging the latest in data science and artificial intelligence research. In the classroom and during the work-experience phase of the programme, we focus on experiential learning; in other words, solving real-world problems. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime,” adds Dippnall.

According to job sites Indeed and Dice, the demand for data science skills is growing exponentially. A January Indeed report reflected a 29% increase in data scientist postings year-on-year and a 344% increase since 2013.

President Cyril Ramaphosa affirmed this need at the inaugural Digital Economy Summit held in Midrand last week. He stated government is committed to train one million young people in data science and related skills by 2030, to ensure South Africa has the necessary human capital to meet the demands of the digital economy.

To qualify for the fully sponsored one-year programme (including tuition and a stipend), candidates must successfully complete an online application, which probes their analytical and problem-solving capabilities. They must also attend a data science bootcamp and a round of interviews with the team at EDSA.

Applicants should be between 18 and 35 years of age. No prior degree is required, but a quantitative background is useful. Past interns have had varying skills, including mathematics, marketing, media, medical and legal backgrounds. A number of learners are matriculants, who would not otherwise be able to afford a tertiary education.

"We are targeting 100 learners in Cape Town and 300 in Johannesburg, with the balance to be taken up in the planned campus in Durban. We have been amazed by the calibre of talented young South Africans and encouraged that with the right input, these young people can be fast-tracked into the digital economy and an exciting career path," concludes Dippnall.

For more information and to apply for an intern post in 2020, visit the EDSA Web site.