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Tech sector must address skills gap before tackling big data initiatives

Paul Newman Archive

In theory, the corporate world has tremendous potential to improve its efficiency by using more data-driven processes to discover truths about clients, customers and the economy at large. In practice, however, this movement has seen slow going. While big data analytics is a growing field that could mean big things for companies' ROI, it may be growing too quickly for its own good. Recent research indicates that the workforce isn't growing quickly enough to keep up.

Working with heavy volumes of information and maintaining data quality require a great deal of technical skill, and many of today's IT professionals lack formal educational backgrounds in this area. For a chief information officer who's, say, 40 today, it's impossible to have a degree in the field, as analytics was a largely untapped area two decades ago.

The skills gap will likely only keep growing as analytics continue to gain popularity and more CIOs gain influence in their companies despite a lack of formal training. EWeek recently warned about this burgeoning problem. Eric Lundquist, technology analyst for private investment firm Ziff Brothers Investments, cited Gartner research, which predicted that by 2015, big data will create 4.4 million jobs worldwide, including 1.9 million in the United States. It's unclear where all that tech talent will come from.

What's the answer?
One solution to this problem is to place a greater emphasis on technology in the education system. That would definitely help - by imploring young people to study math and science more intensely while in school, the public sector can help the IT industry thrive in the distant future. In the present, though, more action must be taken to bring today's IT executives up to speed.

Adult education is one area in which the IT industry can rapidly improve the current workforce. EWeek reported that Michael Rappa, who runs the advanced analytics institute at North Carolina State University, is working to craft a full-time program in which IT professionals immerse themselves in big data analytics five days a week, 9 to 5, for 10 months.

Students in Rappa's program are expected to span a variety of ages, mostly between 20 and 50, and educational backgrounds ranging from computer science to liberal arts. Regardless of their backgrounds, graduates can expect multiple job offers, including six-figure salaries upon their graduation.

Analytics is a growing field, and the workforce needs to keep up. Education can help make that progress a reality.