Future Of Big Data: Companies Struggle To Close Cavernous Analytics Talent Gap

Dearth of talent for some of the sexiest big data jobs

Data science is this century’s sexiest job sector, said academics at Harvard Business School two years ago. Fast forward to 2015 and the cavernous gap of analytics talent remains just as wide.

Such is the potential for data to add value to organizations — potentially $600 billion in consumer surplus, says a McKinsey report — that demand for management with analytics training is if anything even more rampant.

“Our graduates are in high demand. We can’t develop experts in business analytics fast enough,” says Roy Lee, assistant dean of global programs at NYU Stern, referring to the MS in Business Analytics.

A recent survey by the MIT Sloan Management Review found that 49% of respondents said they lack analytics talent. What’s more, 40% report difficulty in attracting people with analytical skills — and an equal percentage struggle to retain them.

This is bad for business, according to David Kiron, executive editor of MIT Sloan Management Review, who told BusinessBecause: “If you aren’t using data to anticipate customer interests, your company is going to be at a disadvantage, especially when competing against the most advanced digital companies.”

The findings echo a survey of executives by KPMG this year, which found that 36% admitted that they lack big data specialists, up from 24% in 2014.

“It seems that demand is growing faster than talent can fill positions,” says Juan José Casado Quintero, academic director of the Master in Business Analytics & Big Data at IE Business School.

While interest in hiring data scientists is infamously high, business managers too must develop their data crunching skills. McKinsey’s report says 1.5 million more managers and analysts with analytical skills will be required by 2018.

Even at the highest level, a shortage remains: a PwC survey of CEOs found that 25% lack the skills to make greater use of their organizations’ data.

“Managers will need to learn new tools to analyze and visualize information, and also to develop their ability to better communicate with data scientists,” says Theos Evgeniou, professor of decision sciences and technology management at INSEAD, the business school.

This bodes well for career prospects. A survey of 600 companies by Accenture, the management consultancy, found that two-thirds recruited a senior figure to lead data management and analytics.

The UK alone is forecast to create 56,000 big data jobs a year until 2020, according to a report by employers’ network Tech Partnership and business analytics firm SAS.

Mark Kennedy, director of the KPMG Centre for Business Analytics at Imperial College Business School in London, says those without the analytical skills sought by sectors like finance and consulting will be at a disadvantage.

“There will continue to be a need for people with the MBA who have some kind of technical background,” he says. 

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