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April 3, 2020

How COVID-19 Is Impacting the Market for Data Jobs


The United States has shed nearly 10 million jobs in the past two weeks due to the COVID-19 shutdown, and there are some data science, data engineering, and data analytics positions among them. However, surveys indicate that data teams have yet to see widespread layoffs or furloughs at this time, particularly among larger companies. But workers at tech startups are susceptible to layoffs.

According to a March 27 Burtch Works survey conducted in partnership with the International Institute for Analytics, nearly 57% of the 300 survey respondents indicated no change to their staffing and hiring plans, and another 22% have instituted hiring freezes or are preparing for layoffs, but have taken no actions. About 5% have instituted “substantial” salary cuts, hiring freezes, or layoffs, while nearly 16% have instituted “some” measures in response to COVID-19.

“More layoffs and furloughs are being announced by the day,” Burtch Works says. “However, as of March 27, most analytics organizations are not yet feeling the crunch.”

Burtch Works also reports that workers in data-oriented positions (data scientists, engineers, analysts) were able to transition to work-from-home arrangements without too much difficulty. The focus of the data teams, however, has shifted and many projects have been frozen as coronavirus upends the global economy and changes daily life for billions of people.

COVID-19 has spurred a shift to analyze things like supply chain disruptions, speech analytics, and filtering out pandemic-related behavior, such as binge shopping, Burtch Works says. Data teams are being asked to create new simulations for the coming recession, to create scorecards to track pandemic-related behavior, and add COVID-19 control variables to marketing attribution models, the company says.

Source: Burtch Works

“While the crisis is in its early days and it is hard to predict where it will head, the results of the survey show that analytics organizations thus far have not been heavily impacted,” Burtch Works concludes. “However, it is very reasonable, if not necessary, to assume that the impacts will grow and become larger and more widespread in the coming weeks and months.”

The market for data jobs is coming off an extraordinarily robust year. According to a Dice Tech Jobs report released in February, demand for data engineers was up 50% and demand for data scientists was up 32% in 2019 compared to the prior year. “Demand for data-oriented occupations and skillsets skyrocketed in 2019,” the company stated.

Many organizations encountered difficulty in hiring and recruiting data talent during the 10-year bull market, so it’s not surprising that these folks are not among the first to be laid off. Nevertheless, data jobs are not immune, and there are reports of data scientists losing jobs as companies go under.

‘The Great Unwinding’

In particular, the COVID-19 pandemic is decimating technology startups as investors pull money out of high-risk investments and move to safety in cash. According to a Wednesday story in The New York Times, more than 50 tech startups in the Silicon Valley have fired or furloughed 6,000 employees in what one observer called the “The Great Unwinding.”

“There’s no doubt that this will be a time of weeding out of start-ups that can’t survive,” Mike Jones, an investor at the venture capital firm Science, told The Times.

VC funding was coming off its 2019 high even before COVID-19 (Source: NVCA and PitchBook report)

There will be some weeding of the broader job market, too. According to Workforce Logiq, which tracks worker volatility across a range of job categories, worker volatility across all top U.S.-based job categories surged to 37% last month as employment uncertainty grew “exponentially.”

Worker volatility was highest in job functions like teachers, construction workers, healthcare workers, restaurant workers, and nurses and doctors, the company found. IT workers were in the middle of pack, moving from a 9% likelihood to engage in a job search (or be open to recruitment) in December to 12% in March. Software engineers, on the other hand, moved from 17% to 20% likelihood to engage, which corresponds with an 18% increase in worker volatility.

Data scientists and data engineers have built-in job security relative to other positions as businesses transition their operations to rely more heavily on data, data science, and AI. That’s a long-term trend that is not likely to change due to COVID-19, although momentum had started to slow in 2019 as venture capital investments ebbed.

However, the shock of the current economic blackout and the likelihood of a national recession will force individual companies into bankruptcy and decimate entire industries, which will impact a wide range of worker categories, including data scientists and data engineers. For that reason, no class of worker enjoys total immunity from the viral pandemic.

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