Data Science, Economics and COVID-19

By Seth Robinson

Bachelor of Commerce and Master of Economics alum Dean Magee is Chief Data Scientist at Geografia. Over the last few weeks, he’s been looking at the numbers, and thinking about what the future holds after COVID-19.

Every year Geografia performs a piece of work for the City of Melbourne, estimating the city’s annual Gross Retail Product (GRP), a measure that is similar to a countries GDP, but drilled down a specific region.

“The City of Melbourne do a survey of every single building and business, looking at things like employment status, whether workers are full-time, casual, etc, and what industries they work in. They publish all of this data on their Open Data platform.”

Dean’s team at Geografia then takes this data and uses it to calculate the city’s GRP. With the emergence of COVID-19, Geografia calculated the potential impact the recent shutdowns might have on the local economy. Geografia delivered projections based on the idea that restrictions might continue for 12 months.

“We developed a model based on some assumptions of the shutdowns’ impact, for example, that 90% of hospitality jobs would be gone, along with some others in sectors such as travel. We found that COVID-19 could result in a 15 billion dollar hit to the economy of Melbourne, which isn’t surprising when you consider that it’s a city based largely on a service economy, on café’s and tourism, the arts and sports. These are all the industries that have been affected."

Dean Magee
Dean Magee, Chief Data Scientist at Geografia.

"It is also important to keep in mind the flow on economic effects of COVID-19 and the restrictions. We’ve already seen the large professional service firms reduce hours and cut pay as the wider economy takes a hit. This isn’t going to be something that is restricted to retail and hospitality only. Australia so far has been living up to its lucky country tagline. We’ve managed to flatten our curve and things might get back to some kind of normal faster here than anywhere else in the world. On the one hand that is good news as the hit to retail and hospitality might not be as great but the journey back to normal might still be difficult. The rest of the world has not been as fortunate to date. We’ll see significantly fewer international students, tourists and new immigrants visit the city this year and maybe even the next. They contribute a great deal to the City of Melbourne, beyond just the economy too. This isn’t a gap that will be filled easily.”

It’s a massive impact, which will no doubt have long reaching consequences, but it also highlights the importance of understanding the data – and roles like Dean’s – as we consider the future of the economy and work. Over the last month working and studying from home has become the norm, will this be the case in the future?

“At Geografia, we have international offices in Berlin and London, so I think we were already somewhat used to remote work, things like managing projects online and co-ordinating meetings across time zones, but things have definitely evolved over the last month. I’ve seen a lot of jokes and memes online about remote work, things like ‘who inspired your company to move to remote work, A) the CEO, B) The CIO, or C) COVID-19’. In most cases it definitely seems to have been the latter,” says Dean. “I think there will be lasting changes. There has been discussion around the nature of globalisation in the future, and while I think we may see changes and restrictions to the global supply chain, there may be an upswing in globalisation when it comes to white-collar sectors. Companies have seen now that they can work effectively online, the next step then is to tap into the incredible international talent that’s out there. Your colleagues don’t all have to be restricted to living in the same city or country.”

Over the last 5 years, Dean has had the chance to see the evolution of the data science field as well. It’s also given him the opportunity to explore new areas of interest within the field.

“Over the last two years, a lot of my work has focused more on data engineering and managing people who work in that space. This varies from data science in that data engineering is more about creating the infrastructure and pipelines that allow for that flow of information. I like the metaphor of a data scientist being the architect who comes in and designs your bathroom, and then the data engineer being the plumber who comes in and makes sure the water is flowing.

The good news is, Data science remains an area where there will be opportunities for new graduates.

“I think the future of data science will be with how it can make a real impact. The opportunities will be there for pragmatic graduates, who are able to demonstrate how their work is delivering solutions for business. I think at the beginning, when data science was really emerging as a discipline, there was a tendency to focus on delivering fancy solutions or creating the most accurate model using the most modern piece of technology. I think now, particularly in the current environment, it’s about how you can make an impact, for the business, and society. I think graduates who can embrace that mindset will find it beneficial.”

The Master of Economics at Melbourne Business School offers advanced studies in economics and econometrics. You will gain the skills necessary to practice as a professional economist in the public or private sectors.

Find out more about the Master of Economics now.