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Edtech: Mooc Platforms Are Filling The Gaping Business Analytics Talent Void

Online learning helps reduce big data skills shortages

The gaping business analytics skills gap grows ever wider. The consultancy McKinsey & Company foresees a shortage of 1.8 million big data specialists by 2018. SAS, a business analytics company, says firms struggle to fill 77% of big data jobs.

Any business school worth its salt is now teaching the skill to budding executives, who will need to harness data to make better decisions. But online learning platforms are increasingly important in reducing the talent shortage.  

Nancy Moss, a director at edtech platform edX, says online learning sites are great resources to help fill educational gaps. More than 880,000 people enrolled in data analytics courses on edX, she says, “Thus, helping to close the data analytics gap.”

The latest sign of this trend was the launch on Wednesday of a new data science degree by Coursera, a provider of Moocs, or massive open online courses, with University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“People are hungry for data science skills,” says Julia Stiglitz, an executive at Coursera. Online platforms provide the flexibility many full-time workers need.

“Most of our students are working adults, many with families,” she says. “They are looking for convenient, efficient and effective ways to learn.”

Elite business schools have turned to online platforms to satisfy a demand for analytics talent. As an example Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania this year set-up a big data Mooc with Coursera.

“We wanted to bring learning to a global audience,” says Anne Trumbore, director of Wharton Online.

Yet universities have not moved quickly enough to address the big data talent void, argues Mike Feerick, CEO of online learning business ALISON.

“There is a chronic shortage of people with strong data analytics skills.  Universities struggle to find staff to teach these subjects as the skills are scarce and lecturers expensive to hire,” he says.

Most schools have offered campus courses on big data within their full-time degree programs, rather than standalone options.

HEC Paris, for instance, revamped some of its MBA content to cover data analytics, with IBM. “The aim of the course is to create managers and consultants who are able to identify and make the most of the new, growing opportunities that are linked to an intelligent exploitation of big data,” says Benoit Banchereau, HEC Paris’ director of development.   

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The demand for engineers has long been exuberant but, increasingly, companies are searching for managers who can bridge the gap between data scientists and the executive suite.   

“Data availability has increased dramatically in recent years, from recordings of people’s online shopping behaviour and postings on social media to the tracking of goods through the supply chain,” says Juergen Branke, professor at Warwick Business School, which offers a big data Mooc through FutureLearn, an edtech company. “This data offers great opportunities for better management decisions.”

Demand for data specialists has outpaced the need for other technology specialists, such as engineers by 50%, according to an analysis of LinkedIn data by RJMetrics, a software company.

KPMG, the professional services firm, estimates data analytics has surged to the number one most-needed skill among UK business, skyrocketing to almost six times higher than the next-most-scarce ability.

“We can’t develop experts in business analytics fast enough,” says Roy Lee, assistant dean at NYU Stern, which runs a master’s degree in business analytics.

Online programs are aiding the data analytics skills crunch, but campus courses are proliferating too.

“There is huge unmet demand for data science,” says Gregory LaBlanc, at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, which runs a big data course for MBAs with Accenture.

Jake Cohen, senior associate dean at MIT Sloan, which recently launched a $75,000 business analytics master’s degree, says companies need the talent.

“Recruiters have said they are looking for training in advanced business analytics.”

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