Layoff has always been the first step companies take in order to cut down cost amid an economic turmoil. And this COVID-19 pandemic has made millions of people unemployed, including data scientists and analytics professionals. Keeping business sustainable is a critical priority for any company right now, and in order to keep their finances stable as well as to reinvest in automation, many of them are taking layoffs as a resort for their business continuity. In fact, according to data, this coronavirus lockdown has made a record-high unemployment rate of 27.1% in India. In another recent report, it has been noted that the new claims for unemployment benefits in the US have raised to 281,000 by March 2020, which is the highest since 2017.
These layoffs have indeed created a significant disruption in the data science industry, which left a lot of analytics and data professionals perplexed about their future. Not only this upheaval builds insecurity among data scientists but also yields anxiety that can affect their mental, financial and emotional health. According to the principal analyst of applied research at DailyHunt, Swapnil Jadhav wrote in his Medium post that data science is nothing else than any other IT related field and that makes it even more vulnerable to layoffs than engineers. Therefore, data scientists must accept the fact that these terminations by companies are inevitable and cannot be escaped.
Arguably, every crisis comes with an opportunity, and this COVID pandemic has turned out to be a blessing in disguise for data scientists who are recently hit with unemployment. It doesn’t have to be always the worst thing that can happen to data scientists. Instead, it could be a catalyst for something better.
Layoffs Are Not Always A Bane For Data Scientists?
Layoffs have become the fact of the industry with this pandemic outbreak. However, this can indeed play a perfect opportunity for data scientists to enhance their career graph.
Professionals that have been working in this industry must be having a busy schedule working with a massive amount of data in order to solve critical business problems, which gives them less chance to stop and reflect on their career. On the other hand, with this automation boom, many skills are getting obsolete, as companies are only looking to hire professionals with more than general data science skills, which makes the majority of data roles redundant. This, in turn, will lead to many data scientists running out of business anytime soon, if not now. And therefore, this time off could be the ideal time for data scientists to upskill themselves or learn new skills that would make a hit in the post-COVID world.
Being a dynamic and competitive landscape, upskilling has always proved to be beneficial for the data science industry. However, with COVID-19 layoffs, it has become a necessity for data scientists and analytics professionals to enhance their skill sets to stand out in the market.
Data scientists usually put hours and hours of their time to solve business problems, also working with data can be tiring mentally, which provides them very less time in hand or motivation to upgrade themselves while being at work. Being impacted by layoff will provide an immense amount of time, and also motivation to better themselves and learn new skills relevant to the industry, such as computer vision, geospatial technology, data storytelling, and the most, of course, explainable AI.
In fact, LinkedIn workforce index stated that over three out of five individuals would focus on online learning during this crisis. This also created a massive field for edtech companies to play with, where the majority of them, starting from Udemy, Simplilearn, Unacademy, Coursera, to name a few, have begun offering industry-ready online courses for them to resell themselves in order to land on their desired job. These courses will help in getting ready for the dynamic interview process that is often daunting for laid-off low esteem data science professionals. MD of Udemy India, Irwin Anand also believes that learning can be the key that can help the workforce succeed in these unprecedented times.
Alongside, this layoff could also be scope for laid-off senior data scientists to join in mentorship to guide newcomers of the industry. Of course, they are going to create more competition for the unemployed professionals, but it always gives a chance to learn by sharing their knowledge from these aspirants and young professionals who have the ability to transform the industry with their new perspective. Joining in mentoring programs also allows these laid-off data scientists to meet industry people and network with other data scientists with shared interests.
Many companies have also provided their laid-off employees access to outplacement services, which again can provide them with resources to learn and enhance their skill sets, and also have the possibility to return to their jobs post-COVID. A recent survey by Naukri.com has substantiated that with a number — where more than 50% of CHROs and recruiters whose companies are undergoing a layoff are interested in providing outplacement services to their fired employees.
Joel Paul, the general manager of India at RiseSmart, which has recently partnered with Swiggy, Airbnb and others to offer outplacement services, stated to the media, “Layoffs are a big story, but companies are hiring too.” He further stated that their data showcase that outplacement is growing at 30% annually in India.
This time off can also be utilised by laid-off data scientists to work on diverse projects, instead of the client or domain-based projects that were forced upon by companies earlier. Working on a diverse range of projects will help them build a strong portfolio which would be required to impress recruiters when the market gets better. Data science can also work on projects based on GAN, computer vision, machine learning, IoT, as well as facial recognition projects to get their hands dirty on diverse raw data and build multiple systems. Not only working on these projects will brand their expertise but can also enhance their specialisation, which would again come handy for landing on a job.
Hackathons and programming contests are another exciting aspect of being in this data science field, and while being at work, it gets difficult for data professionals to take out time to participate in these. Many organisations, including Analytics India Magazine, organise hackathons — MachineHack — for data aspirants and professionals, that can be utilised in the current time for giving value to their resume. Hackathons are also a great way of restoring confidence and self-worth, which usually get lost post a layoff.
Data science profession is usually a highly paid job, and therefore, many a time it’s difficult for companies in a financial crunch to keep up with their salaries which leads to a layoff. In fact, according to a recent report, the average pay raise in 2020 is just 3% which is less than the previous year. This respite, therefore, can act as an opportunity for those data scientists to find something better in terms of position, salary as well as companies. Off late, many experts have also stated that data scientists are leaving their job due to reasons like different expectations from employers, working in isolation, lack of data democratisation, and less understanding of their role. With this layoff data, scientists can search for their desired job. In fact, companies like Airtel X Labs, PayPal, Oracle, Paytm, among others are still actively hiring data scientists to work on new innovative services. Also, many studies have shown that job switchers always manage to raise up their salaries by some percentage, and therefore, we can say that this COVID-19 layoff is like a boon for data scientists.
As a matter of fact, due to this turmoil, several job portals have now started to prioritise resumes on professionals that are hit from the crisis. For instance, Naukri.com has recently come up with their COVID initiative with a microsite — StepUp — dedicated to addressing the COVID-19 laid-off employees. Even Monster.com is dressing the crowd by putting up a COVID-19 layoff questionnaire for people. Even Silver Lining is another such platform that is helping laid-off employees to get a job. This platform also enhanced their services by including coaching, resume writing and emotional support to its users.
Alongside, this pause in the career can force you to put more effort into networking and being in touch with professionals from the industry, which has always been critically lacking among data scientists. The more one networks with their fellow people, the better they create their chances to not only land on a job but also to learn more about the industry. This can be done by attending virtual conferences, joining training sessions, working on online collaboration, and participating in virtual forums.
Being at the edge of economic decline, many analytics professionals are undergoing furloughing or laying off in their organisations. However, it’s always in the hands of laid-off employees as to how they are going to utilise this disaster into a triumph for their career. Data scientists must take some time off in order to understand their career goals and to look at opportunities that can enhance their skills and lead in directions that weren’t clear before.