Big Data • Big Analytics • Big Insight

May 30, 2014

Plugging the Big Data Skills Gap

George Leopold
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The so-called American “skills gap” that is making it harder to fill technology jobs is lending urgency to efforts to develop university courses and worker retraining programs to help fill jobs created by the big data boom.

According to reports, the skills mismatch for big data-related jobs is growing. Fortune magazine reported this week that the IT career site Dice.com posts on average 1,894 jobs related to big data each day. One reason for the growing number of vacancies is the inability to find qualified candidates, experts say.

(A search of the Dice.com site listed no less than 3,434 job listings using the search terms “big data”.)

Hence, the need for more training in data analytics, database management and related big data skill sets.

Prestigious institutions like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are moving to fill the big data skills gaps through new executive courses like “Big Data: Making Complex Things Simpler.”

Some of the big data courses are being taught by Alex Pentland, a computational social scientist and director of human dynamics research at the MIT Media Lab. Pentland is also the author of a new book on personalized big data called Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread – The Lessons from the New Science.

Pentland told Fortune that an earlier online big data course was attracting 1,000 sign-ups a day.

Companies like IBM that are struggling to find candidates to fill big data jobs are reportedly expanding academic partnership programs to sponsored big data courses and majors at U.S. business schools and universities.

Sensing an opportunity, U.S. schools like the University of Maryland University College are offering graduate level programs in data analytics. The school is touting its program as addressing the “shortage of talented analysts who can uncover data insights to drive business decisions.”

Meanwhile, the management-consulting firm McKinsey & Co. also is warning of a serious shortage of skilled big data workers. By 2018, McKinsey predicted, “the United States alone could face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with the know-how to use the analysis of big data to make effective decisions.”

The consulting firm also cautioned that big data courses and university majors would not be enough to fill the coming skills gap. Extensive retraining of the existing technology workforce also will be needed.

The U.S. “cannot fill this gap simply by changing graduate requirements and waiting for people to graduate with more skills or by importing talent,” the consultant warned in a survey of the big data market. “It will be necessary to retrain a significant amount of talent in place; fortunately, this level of training does not require years of dedicated study.”

The skills gap facing big data is similar to shortages faced in a range of high-tech sectors. For example, a shortage of skilled engineers has fueled a debate over whether to outsource those jobs to countries that traditionally offer lower pay for similar work.

Given the importance of big data as a new engine of U.S. economic growth, that debate could be sidestepped if tech companies with deep pockets continue to invest in education and worker retraining.

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