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April 29, 2015

Report: Plans Lacking to Fill Data Skills Gap

The soaring demand for data scientists and the resulting pressure on the analytics labor pool is placing a premium on analytics talent as more companies with more data to sift through discover they are trying to hire the same workers.

That is among the key findings of yet another study documenting the growing data analytics skills gap. The MIT Sloan Management research report, “The Talent Dividend,” reaches a familiar conclusion: “Analytics talent is driving competitive advantage in data-oriented companies.” The rub is finding the talent while training the next generation of data analysts.

One consequence is that while access to useful data is steadily rising, the ability to apply data insights to business strategies is not.

The MIT report cites ominous statistics about the shortfall of data scientists over the next several years. For instance, management consultants at the McKinsey Global Institute project a shortage of up to 190,000 workers with analytics expertise by 2018 on top of another 1.5 million managers and analysts with the skills to use big data techniques to make business decisions.

The report released this week notes that U.S. universities have jumped in to partially fill the data skills gap, often with funding from the same companies that need more data workers. The study estimates more than 70 master’s programs in data science and analytics have been established. For instance, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst launched its Center for Data Science this spring with the backing of companies like Google, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft.

Even though more data scientists are in the pipeline, data-driven companies still face talent shortages, the MIT report warned. “Until supply meets demand, many organizations will continue to find it difficult to attract and retain the talent they need to build competitive advantage,” the report found.

Four in ten survey respondents told MIT researchers they continued to have “difficulty attracting people with analytical skills, and an equal percent struggle to retain them.” At the same time, “many companies have yet to develop an effective talent strategy; they are not doing anything different to attract new data workers.”

Just one company in five surveyed by MIT researchers has developed a strategy for attracting and retaining analytics talent.

In the meantime, some companies are attempting to fill the data science gap by retraining existing employees, the MIT survey found. Indeed, the combination of business experience and the ability to soak up the fundamentals of data science appears to be one of the stop-gap measures available to companies currently competing to hire the same data scientists.

“Current employees who are able to develop an analytics skill set and combine that with their knowledge of the business can be invaluable when moving analytical insights across the ‘last mile’ to decision makers,” the MIT report concluded.

MIT Sloan Management Review said it conducted its fifth annual survey of the data analytics market during fall 2014. The global survey was conducted in partnership with software vendor SAS and includes responses from more than 2,700 executives across a range of industries. Respondents included SAS clients.

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