New Data Science Institute formed to attract, improve workforce

Leaders of the Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute say the recently announced effort will help with attracting and improving the workforce in the Milwaukee region.

“It’s not just attracting, it’s really transforming the talent that’s here, and that is what the Data Science Institute needs to do,” said Mark Mone, UW-Milwaukee chancellor. He spoke yesterday at a meeting of the Wisconsin Technology Council’s Innovation Network, held in Wauwatosa.

He said members of the Milwaukee 7 economic development group recently discussed the first results of an ongoing study from ManpowerGroup and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. He said those results suggest “things aren’t as grim as some have forecast for 2021, 2023,” in terms of the projected need for jobs in the region.

Still, he said some estimate that somewhere between 90,000 and 120,000 jobs will be needed in that timeframe, “which is a heavy lift.” But he said the tech sector and other jobs being altered by the rise of data science can help with that.

“Every single industry is being transformed,” he said. “For this region, existing jobs need to be upskilled, need to be changed dramatically.”

That’s a major goal of the Data Science Institute, which was announced in June. Partners include Northwestern Mutual, the NW Mutual Foundation, UW-Milwaukee and Marquette University.

NW Mutual and the foundation are contributing $12.5 million, and UWM and Marquette will each contribute $11.25 million over the next five years, according to the announcement from earlier this summer. The total $35 million investment will go toward endowed professors, data science faculty positions, research projects, and expanded programming for students which will begin this fall.

Marquette University Mike Lovell emphasized the importance of data science for local employers. He pointed to a November 2016 meeting of executives where eight CEOs from various industries expressed a need for workers in that space.

“The biggest need we have is for people with data science and analytics skills,” Lovell said.

Less than a year after the roundtable discussion, the school launched a new data science undergraduate major. This year’s class has about 60 students, Lovell said, but he expects that number to rise to 200 before long.

Dave Pahl, director of analytics for NW Mutual, sees the DSI as an opportunity to solve a complex problem using data: how to understand customer behavior and their interpersonal connections.

“It’s exciting, very difficult to solve,” he said. “This amalgamation of the social — who you know, who do you talk to… I think data science has great potential to help us crack the nut on that, and picking up a greater understanding of what’s happening out in the country and beyond.”

See more on the Data Science Institute here:

–By Alex Moe