Strategies to Overcome the Big Data Skills Gap

September 30, 2017
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Businesses face a significant challenge today, one that has no obvious answer. That challenge relates to the use of big data analytics. While most businesses understand how big data can benefit them, it takes more effort and time to actually put big data solutions into practice. Even so, that’s a challenge that can be overcome if not for one major obstacle: the number of people with the skill set to tackle big data problems is relatively low. Companies have a high demand for big data experts, but there are few out there right now that actually fit the bill. This is often referred to as the big data skills gap, a gap that only seems to be growing wider with time. The numbers back up this trend as well. While different research institutions have different estimations, the general consensus seems to be that there will be a shortage of data scientists of anywhere from 100,000 to 190,000 by the end of the decade. Businesses hoping to properly use big data will quickly find it difficult to acquire the talent needed to do so.

So the big question then becomes, how does a company overcome the big data skills gap? As wonderful as it would be to have a simple, straightforward solutions, a problem this complex features many different approaches, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Compounding the issue is the fact that each organization functions different and has its own set of challenges and obstacles to overcome. So I one-size-fits-all strategy simply doesn’t exist. There are, however, a number of ideas and solutions that have cropped up in recent years meant to address the big data skills gap.

One strategy might be to take employees that already work for the company and train them in the art of using big data. Of course, building someone up from scratch might not be the most efficient means of getting big data talent, but if an employee already has skill with programming, mathematics, and problem solving, getting them to become familiar with big data isn’t necessarily a stretch. They have to have an interest in the subject, of course, but the value this can add to the company outweighs any investment needed for training.

As the demand for big data scientists grows, so too does the number of degree programs being offered by major educational institutions. In fact, many big tech companies have opened up partnerships with universities to develop data science programs designed to train the next generation of data scientists. This has the added benefit of not only getting students and prospective data scientists the training they need to tackle big data problems, but it also opens up an easy path to go from degree to first job out of college.

This partnership idea is being implemented all over the world in some interesting ways. A Harvard-based startup, for example, is looking to give students special apprenticeships wherein they work with industry leaders from giant companies like Apple and Amazon to solve real world problems those companies are currently facing. Those can include analyzing data for customer insights or participating in IT Transformation. The idea is to give students some hands-on experience with analytics projects they’ll be taking on once they have graduated. It makes for a smooth transition and top-notch preparation for a long and successful career as a data scientist.

Some governments are waking up to the reality of the big data skills gap as well. In the UK, for example, the industry trade body TechUK is petitioning the government to get involved in the training of data scientists for the future. Citing losses in the economy and the need for more jobs, the group hopes the government will fund more training programs to help meet this need. It’s a challenge that other governments around the world are looking into right now.

While there is no one solution to bridging the big data skills gap, finding one remains a top priority. Businesses have great need to have talented data scientists as part of their organizations. If the skills gap decreases, more companies will be able to take full advantage of what big data has to offer, providing a clear path to success well into the future.