With IT leaders increasingly needing data scientists to gain game-changing insights from a growing deluge of data, hiring and retaining those key data personnel is taking on greater importance.\n\nWithout enough trained, high-level data scientists to fill all the job openings out there, CIOs are working with HR and hiring specialists to find ways to attract applicants. And once they hire them, the trick is then to keep these highly sought-after employees from leaving for another job \u2014 especially at a competitor.\n\n\u201cCompanies are struggling to hire true data scientists,\u201d says Brandon Purcell, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, a Cambridge, Mass.-based industry analyst firm. \u201cIt\u2019s very, very challenging, especially if [the companies aren\u2019t] the biggest brands and the biggest names. Data scientists have the alchemy to turn data into insights. \u2026 There\u2019s a lot of thought going into how to hire and retain them.\u201d\n\nAnd that\u2019s true in every industry, from healthcare to agriculture, to retail, manufacturing, finance, and beyond.\n\nThis uniquely skilled, relatively new breed of data experts gathers and analyzes data \u2014 both structured and unstructured \u2014 to solve real business problems, using statistics, machine learning, algorithms, and natural language processing. As big data wranglers, they can improve customer experience, drive new products, and find hidden patterns that will affect critical business decisions.\n\nBut there simply aren\u2019t enough trained \u2014 not to mention experienced \u2014 data scientists for all the companies looking to harness them. To compound that problem, the fight to attract and hire these IT professionals is overwhelmingly led by tech and internet giants, such as Amazon, Google, and Facebook, which can offer an impressive brand name, along with a wide variety of project options, hefty salary packages, and stock options.\n\nAccording to a 2021 Gartner research report, hiring senior data scientists is \u201cvery difficult,\u201d and even finding junior-level data science talent is challenging. Similar findings came out of a 2021 Forrester report which noted that 55% of companies surveyed were looking to hire data scientists. The report also pointed out that 62% needed data engineers and 37% wanted machine learning engineers \u2014 both are key data science support roles.\n\nAnd these jobs pull in solid salary packages. Gartner reported that a data scientist in Washington, D.C., with eight or more years of experience can expect to earn $174,000 a year, or $110,000 with two years of experience or less. In San Francisco, those corresponding numbers are $192,000 and $118,000.\u00a0\n\nYes, offering competitive or better money is a key factor when attracting skilled data scientists in this market. But it often takes more than that to land data science talent \u2014 and it goes way beyond in-office table tennis, Friday pizza lunches, and free bags of seaweed chips, as these IT leaders and industry analysts attest.\n\nFocus on purpose\n\nWith 72.4 million active customer accounts and 7 trillion data points, Bess Healy, senior vice president and CIO at Synchrony, is always looking to expand her data science team.\n\n\u201cWe, like many other institutions, are seeing a very large growth in our amount of data. It\u2019s the fuel that feeds our insights,\u201d Healy says of the Stamford, Conn.-based consumer financial services company. \u201cOur need will continue to grow over time. We have to attract and retain these skill sets. We know we\u2019re in competition every day for them. Staying ahead of our competitors is a big focus for us. We don\u2019t feel behind but we have a very healthy focus on not falling behind.\u201d\n\nTo find and retain strong data scientists, Synchrony offers flexible hours, continuing education opportunities, and remote work options, such as working from home or a hybrid home\/office schedule.\n\nFor Anupam Khare, senior vice president and CIO at Oshkosh, their value proposition for attracting needed data scientists and other data experts is offering them inspirational projects to work on. The Wisconsin-based industrial company designs and builds a wide swath of products, including specialty trucks, military vehicles, and airport fire apparatus.\n\n\u201cWe can give them meaning to their work. We basically design and manufacture products that help our communities and that\u2019s a draw,\u201d Khare says. \u201cWe manufacture products to serve everyday heroes \u2014 firefighters, soldiers, environmental and refuse workers. That is a very powerful and inspirational mission. \u2026 You can see that you have done an analytics model that helps production, and that means our firefighters get things on time and [get] better products. This is something real and you can feel it.\u201d\n\nThe CIO also noted that Oshkosh focuses on groundbreaking technology for leveraging data to optimize its business, winning a prestigious CIO 100 Award, which honors companies for using IT in innovative ways, four years in a row. They also won the 2021 MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award. That kind of reputation for inventive and engaging work helps attract professionals who want to do creative work.\n\nThe data science team at OshKosh also is given a wide spectrum of problems to tackle, working on issues that affect everything from manufacturing to sales and the supply chain. That not only diversifies their daily work; it also expands the teams\u2019 skill sets, Khare explains.\n\n\u201cWithin the digital tech team, we have a very innovative and progressive culture that focuses on trying new things and learning. They get to use new tech and get their hands on cool technology,\u201d Khare says. \u201cThis is the place where you can bring ideas to life.\u201d\n\nLet innovators innovate\n\nGiving data scientists cutting-edge technology and interesting projects to work on is key to attracting and retaining them, says Chandana Gopal, research director for The Future of Intelligence at IDC, a Needham, Mass.-based industry analyst firm.\n\nHiring managers and IT leaders need to remember that data scientists are highly educated and trained professionals, often with PhDs in math or data science. They crave difficult problems that are critical to the business and have a possible wider benefit to science, their community, or society. And if that problem has never been solved before, even better.\n\n\u201cIf they\u2019re bored with what they are doing, they will not stay,\u201d Gopal says. \u201cYou have to make sure they are a valuable part of your ecosystem, that they\u2019re not doing data prep, and they are working on the big, interesting questions. Make sure you team them up with people on the business side so they\u2019re tied in to big business needs. And give them a support team of people who understand data.\u201d\n\nCompanies also shouldn\u2019t make promises they can\u2019t keep, or have no intention of keeping, because retaining data scientists is just as difficult as it is to hire them in the first place.\n\n\u201cLet them see projects through to fruition. And if you have software that can do low-level or repetitive tasks, make sure you train people to use it to relieve your top data people of these jobs,\u201d Gopal says. \u201cMake sure they are challenged. Make sure they are valued. Show them that executives are committed to using data.\u201d\n\nHiring tips and strategies\n\nIT leaders such as Synchrony\u2019s Healy and Oshkosh\u2019s Khare agree that signing on top-level data science talent. But they, along with IDC\u2019s Gopal and other IT leaders and industry analysts, offer the following advice for hiring and retaining these highly sought-after IT pros:\n\nOffer purpose. Data scientists have a lot of job options. If they\u2019re bored with what they\u2019re doing, they will not stay. Pique their curiosity and drive by giving them cutting-edge projects, or by giving them work that furthers a cause. In particular, data scientists should be made to feel essential by giving them projects that are mission-critical to the company.\n\nFree them up for impact. While data scientists can often perform the full gamut of data science tasks, from cleansing data to gleaning insights from models in production, data scientist are most effective \u2014 and happiest \u2014\u00a0when supported by a team. Free data scientists up to focus on creative work by bringing in data engineers and machine learning engineers to handle engineering work and data prep. It\u2019s also worthwhile to identify your best data literate employees and include them as subject matter experts on your data science team, so they can support the true data scientists in driving value tailored to business needs.\n\nConnect them to the business. Ensure your data scientists, or data science teams, aren\u2019t working on an island by themselves. Connect them with the business team so they are collaborating on the most important questions and continually have a measurable impact on the business.\n\nBuild a pipeline of tools \u2014 and talent. In addition to ensuring your data scientists are supported by data engineers, implement smart software to handle low-level and repetitive tasks, and consider partnering with universities and colleges to create a pipeline of trained interns and new grads that will beef up your data science support team.\n\nTrain for ongoing success. As with any IT field, advances in data science techniques and tools are continually emerging. Help your data scientists keep sharp by offering continuing education, and give current employees the training they need to take on data analytics roles that will aid your true data scientists.\n\nCompensate well. Of course, even with all that, if you\u2019re not paying market rate, you\u2019re facing an uphill battle. Make sure your compensation is on par with, or exceeds, that at other companies your size, and your competitors. And be sure your offer package includes competitive perks, such as the option of remote work and flexible work hours.