By James Bellini, The Talent Foundation
Furious debates are raging about the looming talent war, driven by fast-growing, skills-hungry emerging nations and ageing, demographically-challenged developed economies. Academics produce dry research tomes on esoteric topics, but the real issue is the need for data analytics experts and skills. And globally we are not developing enough of them. ‘Data geek’ may not produce the most enthralling cocktail party chat line… but the next few years will certainly prove it to be the most sought after job applicant.
What is changing?
Among the forest of future-gazing musings and footnote-heavy learned papers, one crunch issue seems seriously overlooked by talent professionals: as data analytics becomes essential for marketplace differentiation and competitive edge, we face a crunch-point in the availability of the right kind of talent. In our haste to harness the huge data-driven possibilities of the evolving connected universe, we have ignored the need to develop a new super-breed of digital eggheads. Confronting this crucial challenge over the next few years will be not just be a decisive trend, but an unavoidable necessity we cannot afford to ignore.
A first crucial step: we need to understand that Big Data isn’t merely an overgrown dimension of the steady growth in accumulated information since the introduction of ‘big iron’ mainframes in the 1950s . We have passed a fundamental tipping point, opening a totally new chapter in the evolution of ‘knowledge’ that will increasingly enable us to assess and predict individual behaviour and preferences, whether it be as consumers, healthcare recipients or citizens. It is therefore not simply a matter of managing and processing vast amounts of largely unstructured information, as has been the task over recent years. Unfortunately, our capacity to turn out the right type of minds is flagging dangerously.
Not all are convinced by the mounting evidence. A recent blog on Silicon Angle by Analytics VP Afshin Goodarzi, for instance, took issue with the mounting panic: ‘concerns about a talent shortage are, in part, a red herring’. Instead, he said, the industry ‘needs to address how to remove the needless complexity’ that besets ‘traditional approaches’ to collecting, processing and analyzing data. But is not the problem caused by the fact that ‘traditional’ is no longer relevant given the shift in information processing realities on truly game-changing scale? Are we not confronting a step change in the very concept of data analytics?
Why is this important?
Here’s a brief summary of current fore-warnings.
The US Department of Education recently expressed the broad-brush view that ’60 per cent of all new jobs in the 21st century will require skills possessed by only 20 per cent of the current workforce’. Meanwhile, McKinsey has drilled down further into this potential skills mismatch to opine on the coming lack of skills in the US alone suited to the unchartered waters of the Big Data age: ‘By 2018 the US could face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 with ‘deep analytical talent’ and a further 1,500, 000 people who can analyze data to drive business decisions’. This McKinsey comment points to a possible 50 to 60 per cent US shortfall over the next five years. Gartner, too, has joined the fray. At their recent Gartner Symposium/ITxpo, the firm indicated that by 2015 only one-third of around 4.4 million global big data jobs will be filled.
According to McKinsey we’re just not producing enough ‘data geeks’ with advanced training in statistics and machine learning as well as the ability to analyze large data sets. Accenture, too, have added their voice to the throng. A survey by their Institute for High Performance looked at demand for analytics experience in the US, China, India, the UK, Japan Brazil and Singapore. It found that by 2015, with the exception of China, all of these countries would be facing a net shortage of PhD graduates qualified for analytics scientist jobs: ‘The US, the UK, Japan, Singapore and Brazil will almost certainly experience significant shortages of this top tier of talent.’ The US, for example, is expected to create 44 per cent of the new jobs for analytics experts but only 23 per cent of the supply, leading to a shortfall of nearly 32,000 workers. India, with its booming analytics services industry, will also struggle to produce enough new PhDs to fill all the new analytics scientist jobs.
‘Data geek’ may not produce the most enthralling cocktail party chat line… but the next few years will certainly prove it to be the most pursued.