Opening Cross: Testing Times? Consider Lifelong Data Learning

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From the day we are born until the day we die, there are always opportunities to learn something new. Once upon a time, your learning largely ended whenever you left school, and training meant learning how not to get killed or maimed by whatever machinery you used at work. A university degree or continuing education was the preserve of the elite: to gain a professional credential, you spent your evenings going to night school.

A big driver of change in the UK came in the 1960s in the form of the “red-brick” universities: new, custom-built educational institutions to boost the higher-educated population and provide more affordable education. In a sign of how the educational landscape had changed by the time I arrived in the mid-1990s, many of the other students were “mature” students returning to gain higher qualifications or who had never had the opportunity to attend university in their youth.

The market and reference data industry is another area where you could easily devote a lifetime to learning its intricacies. Its demands and challenges are ever-evolving, creating constant pressure on its participants to be aware of and respond to the latest changes—whether it’s implementing administrative processes to comply with and make the most of new licensing policies, or staying on top of which new datasets will deliver a competitive advantage, or understanding the requirements of high-performance technology infrastructures.

In this space, the driver equivalent to the ’60s “red-brick” movement has been the onset of new regulations—many of which are, at their core, data, reporting and compliance issues. “The whole regulatory storm has created a lot more pressure on people working in data, and has created a greater need for skills—that and the recession and budget pressures are all leading firms to recognize that they need to invest in the skills and knowledge of their staff,” says David Anderson, program director at industry association FISD, responsible for its Financial Information Associate (FIA) certification program, which Singapore-based Standard Chartered is implementing as mandatory training for its data operations, support and procurement staff.

In fact, Anderson says that in addition to seeing more demand from data vendors and consumers in general as the financial markets emerge from recession, the FIA certification is particularly gaining traction in Asia-Pacific countries, where there is “a great cultural desire to learn.”

Of course, success in Asia may also be a result of the fact that the region was less impacted by the credit crunch and lengthy financial crisis, which may have given local firms more flexible budgets for training compared to their western counterparts, where purse-strings are only now beginning to loosen.

“This type of staff development—which everyone has always said is the right thing to do—was hard for firms to get the budget for during the recession. Now, that seems to be changing, and we at FISD are seeing a significant uptick in engagement with the program in Q1 and Q2—a lot of which is pent-up demand from previous years,” Anderson adds.

In addition, Anderson says firms’ willingness to increase their focus on—and investment in—training may reflect a broader, more positive trend than in recent years. “A consistent theme I hear when talking to contacts is that they want to invest in people—and we didn’t see that even last year,” he says.

That in itself is an interesting indicator of overall market health—though a lagging rather than leading indicator. But more to the point, a healthy market needs—and begets—a healthy workforce, which means a well-educated and knowledgeable workforce. So with luck, this will also mean healthier demand for FISD, training companies and consultancies in the coming months and years, which—considering the dearth of experience from the industry as a result of cutbacks during the recession—is long overdue.

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