Belmont Forum survey highlights importance of IEA role

By Sally Stevens, Institute for Environmental Analytics, University of Reading

An important new skills gap survey highlighting the urgent need for in-career training in state-of-the-art data analytics was presented at this week’s European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly in Austria on Thursday [April 27].

The key findings are:

  • 53% of respondents said the research habit that needed most improvement was reluctance to share data or models.
  • 52% identified the most vital skill for global change research as data processing and analysis.
  • 42% said the digital skills needing most improvement were computational and numerical analysis.
  • The biggest data challenge was data complexity and the lack of data standards and exchange standards.

The survey was commissioned by the Belmont Forum, a highly influential global group of science funders dedicated to speeding up high quality environmental research around the world.

It highlights the importance of the role of the Institute for Environmental Analytics (IEA) in providing collaborative data analytics expertise and in-career data skills courses. The IEA is a world-leading applied R&D organisation based at University of Reading, helping customers who understand the opportunities of environmental data analytics to improve business and manage risk.

IEA training manager Vicky Lucas, who has been appointed Human Dimensions Champion for the Belmont Forum’s e-infrastructure and data management group, carried out the survey among 160 data professionals across Europe, America, Asia, Africa and Australia. They were professionals and experts representing industries and research in sectors ranging from agriculture, hydrology, geoscience, social sciences and statistics to climate, mostly from Europe and North America.

Lucas said: “I hope that this will create targeted funding for exactly the right kind of training in exactly the right kind of skills. These results are not just from research scientists but from industry too.”

The full findings will be discussed at the EGU in Vienna at a Town Hall meeting of Belmont Forum members on Thursday evening, followed by a workshop on Friday morning for invited guests.

The objective is to flesh out the general topics flagged up by the survey as needing improvement and establish a roadmap for funding urgently-needed training that is of a consistent quality around the world, enabling highly skilled collaborations.

Lucas added: “The hope is that Belmont Forum member organisations, such as NERC (the Natural Environment Research Council) in the UK and the National Science Foundation in America, will put out match funding calls for internationally relevant training courses.

“But it’s not just a straight training issue, there is a cultural change needed as well. Scientists will tend to only share data and models in small groups of people they know but we need them made more available, for me that is the key challenge.

“The survey results identify the importance of upskilling the existing workforce to stay ahead in the environmental data analytics industry and the challenge of keeping on top of new skills – these are extremely able people and it can be a struggle even for them to keep up with these skills. Any country that does not invest in these skills is going to fall behind economically.

“The results support what the IEA has already found in the UK and that is why the IEA is already providing high quality training in putting different data sets together in a consistent way and applying these highly sought-after skills to a number of projects.”

The survey was funded by NERC. The full report is available at http://bfe-inf.org/document/skills-gap-analysis

Find out more about the Belmont Forum e-infrastructure and data management group at http://bfe-inf.org/

More about the IEA at www.the-iea.org

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