3 Ways to Tackle the Data-Analyst Shortage

One upon a time, data-driven businesses – that is to say, all businesses – worried about how to gather more and more data. There was no such thing as too much.

That hasn’t changed. Data gathering still plays a big role in any successful business.

Here’s what has changed: Businesses are running short of people with the skills to analyze and use all that data. And the efforts to fill the gaps are likely to have a negative impact on filling other jobs in all industries.

Consider these statistics from “The Quant Crunch: How the Demand for Data Science Skills is Disrupting the Job Market,” put out by IBM, Burning Glass Technologies and the Business-Higher Education Forum:

  • In 2016, job listings in the data science and analytics (DSA) category took an average of 45 days to fill. That’s 10% longer than the average to fill other tech-savvy jobs. Plus, 45 days is only the average. In fact, filling high-level jobs in the field typically took a lot longer. So a lot of recruiters will tell you the crunch is already here.
  • The demand for DSA jobs is projected to grow by 15% over the next five years, but growth in the higher-level categories, such as advanced analytics, will probably be double that.
  • Employers looking to fill the advanced positions are typically demanding applicants who have at least a master’s (but preferably a Ph.D.) and at least three years’ experience. Those requirements have, and will, exacerbate the undersupply problem.

How Are We Coping Now?

If a shortage already exists and is almost certain to get worse, how are businesses coping with it?

One answer, and an example, comes from the finance industry – an industry that relies on data analysis as much as any. When corporations in that field started to feel the shortage, they turned to a practice that’s becoming more and more common: hiring people with quantitative skills, such as physicists, and training them in DSA.

Others have followed suit. Engineers, for instance, have been trained as DSA professionals across a range of industries.

Here are the problems with that approach, from an overall hiring standpoint:

  1. There are only so many physicists and engineers who are willing to make the switch. Sure, they can be tempted with more money, but that creates another problem – a permanent sellers’ market for people who have even remotely relevant quantitative skills.
  2. If DSA scoops up an inordinate number of physicists and engineers, that creates a shortage – and a demand – in those disciplines. Businesses will be hurt by it, and they’ll have to raise salaries. That creates a compensation merry-go-round, with higher and higher salaries that businesses must fork over.

Ending The Shortage

What’s the answer to this talent shortage? The Quant Crunch report has at least three solutions, in the form of recommendations for training and keeping DSAs:

  1. Data literacy for everyone. Students at all levels, starting in high school, should be exposed to the relevance of data and its analysis. The intensity of that exposure should increase as students enter college. The idea isn’t to turn all students into data scientists. Rather, it’s to make sure they understand how to apply and analyze data. That means some of them will help with analyzing data when they’re employed – in any field – so there will be less pressure on pure data analysts. Bonus: Due to the exposure, some students will inevitably pursue DSA as a career, which also alleviates the shortage.
  2. New DSA-focused education programs. If we’re going to expose students to DSA, with the hope they’ll pursue careers in data analytics, ample education programs must be available to give students a path to the careers.
  3. Continuous workplace development of competencies and skills. Does anyone need a reminder of how quickly requirements and qualifications change? Businesses must develop plans for continuous learning. One idea: Pair new hires with mentors so both will learn. The new hires get the foundational benefits of the mentors’ experience; the mentors get exposed to the latest trends and ideas from the new hires.

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