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August 5, 2020

Navigating the AI and Analytics Job Market During COVID-19

Alex Woodie

(metamorworks/Shutterstock)

The market for AI and analytics jobs has not been spared from the wrath of COVID-19, which has directly led to the loss of more than 30 million American jobs over the past four months. It may not appear to be an ideal time to look for a new job, but those hunting for employment in AI and analytics still have options.

The overall job market is abysmal in the United States at the moment, thanks to government orders to temporarily shudder unnecessary businesses in an attempt to slow the novel coronavirus’s spread. Unemployment rolls keep growing as politicians debate how much money to borrow to keep everybody afloat a little bit longer.

Tech startups with questionable business plans are especially vulnerable to the carnage. Nearly 77,000 people have been laid off from tech startup jobs since March, according to the Layoffs.fyi tracker. Silicon Valley, in particular, has been hit hard by layoffs, with companies like Uber, Airbnb, Yelp, and Groupon parting ways with large groups of workers.

It won’t likely end soon, especially if COVID-19 cases continue to surge into the fall. As businesses are forced to shut their doors, workers across all industries are laid off, which hurts consumer spending goes down. Businesses slow investment in reaction to lowered spending, which in turn leads to fewer jobs, which leads to lower consumer spending, etc. Rinse and repeat. It’s a nasty feedback loop, to be sure, and until something breaks the cycle, consumer confidence and business investment will continue to be dulled.

COVID-19 has cost more than 30 million people their jobs in the U.S.(Kira_Yan/Shutterstock)

Early in the pandemic, companies resisted plans to scale back their hiring efforts in big data, analytics, and AI. They have mostly maintained those employment plans, according to the most recent Burtch Works survey, which it conducted with the International Institute for Analytics.

The July Burtch Works survey concluded that “50% of analytics and data science organizations have either suffered no impacts (42.1%) or have actually grown in size (7.6%).” Only 14.5% of respondents expected additional staffing and hiring actions, it says.

Jobs in AI are also not immune to the slowdown. According to a June report from LinkedIn, COVID-19 caused about a 10% drop in demand for AI jobs compared to 2019, when folks with AI skills were in very high demand and commanded top dollar in the job market. In fact, the job title “Artificial Intelligence Specialist” was the number one job in LinkedIn’s “2020 Emerging Jobs Report.”

“Specifically, job listings for such roles grew at 14.0% YOY [year over year] before COVID-19 outbreak and slowed down to only 4.6% YOY,” the author of the June report, Zhichun Jenny Ying, writes. “Job applications grew at 50.8% YOY before COVID-19 outbreak and dipped to 30.2% YOY post-COVID.”

While the AI job market has slowed down, it’s still chugging along at a 5% annual growth rate (when measured by AI job postings). Clearly, the overall job market is doing much worse than the AI sector. When Ying normalized AI job postings against overall job postings, AI jobs actually posted an 8.3% increase during the 10 weeks after the COVID-19 outbreak began.

But there’s a twist: fewer people are applying for those AI jobs. According to Ling’s data, “AI job applications dropped 14.1% during the 10 weeks after the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., compared to the 10 weeks prior, when normalized against overall job postings,” she writes. “This suggests that candidates may be playing it safe during a period of uncertainty.”

AI and data jobs are resilient to COVID-19 cutbacks, but they’re not immune (Jozsef Bagota/Shutterstock)

You can’t blame people for holding onto their current positions during the pandemic. With schools mostly shut down and non-essential workers asked to work from home, the day-to-day existence of the American workforce has experienced unprecedented shock. Many companies won’t survive the pandemic, so why take a risk with job hopping?

Everybody’s situation is different. Depending on the conditions, there could be very good reasons to take a new job in data, according to Tamara Iakiri, the vice president of talent experience at Open Systems Technologies (OST), a technology consultancy based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“While we have certainly seen strong talent come into the market due to job cuts, it is important to remember that companies are still hiring and great companies are using the current situation to gain outstanding talent – especially with these desired skills sets that have been hard to recruit for,” Iakiri tells Datanami.

Iakiri recommends that folks in data-related industries update their resume every six months. Keeping an eye on the job market can let folks know what skills are currently hot, as well as who is hiring.

“Now is not the time to bury our heads and hope,” Iakiri says. “If the company is not doing well, keep doing great work, but also be prepared – have your resume ready, know who is hiring and build your network so you are ready to respond if the unfortunate happens and you are laid off. The best recruiters are willing to have conversations even if they don’t have current openings, having these connections can be invaluable now and in the future.”

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