The Bangalore-based Jigsaw Academy, an online school that offers training and certification in data analytics, launches several new batches every month. Approximately 250-300 people enroll in its multiple monthly groups of 35 students each. Those who complete the five-month certificate program are snapped up by a range of companies, from the smallest local firms to the biggest multinationals. The training school rush illustrates the rising demand for qualified data science professionals in India.
The biggest fallout of the big data revolution — where every type of business gathers and analyzes data — is a massive human resources shortage. Across the globe, thousands of data analytics jobs are going a begging because of a shortage of qualified manpower. A McKinsey Global Institute study projects that the US will face a shortage of about 190,000 data scientists by 2018 and, further, a shortfall of 1.5 million managers and analysts who can understand and make decisions using big data.
In India, which has long been a hub for outsourced technology services work, the scarcity of analytics talent is particularly acute, as global companies send increasing numbers of data-related tasks to the country. The country currently has the highest concentration of analytics globally but even that is extremely inadequate, said Srikanth Velamakanni, the Bangalore-based cofounder and CEO of San Mateo, CA headquartered Fractal Analytics, which has the bulk of its operations in India. "There is huge demand to offshore analytics work, but skill supply is limiting growth."
Then again, the current demand for qualified data professionals is only the tip of the iceberg, said Velamakanni. "In the next few years, the size of the analytics market will evolve to at least one-thirds of the global IT market from the current one-tenths," he said. Fractal Analytics, which counts Procter & Gamble, Visa, and Kimberly-Clark among its clients, has started hiring fresh college graduates and tutoring them in its in-house training academy.
Data analytics as a job discipline became mainstream almost a decade ago, and the demand for trained professionals has been growing steadily since. Given India's reputation for the availability of professionals in varied disciplines at reasonable costs, global banks and financial services firms were the first to migrate their analytics work to India, followed by pharma and life sciences companies. Global retailers, consumer firms, logistics firms, consultancies, and engineering firms have all begun routing their data analytics work to IT services providers and specialized analytics service providers in India.
The talent deficit is on two fronts, said Velamakanni: data scientists who can perform analytics, and analytics consultants who can understand and use the data. The first, big data engineers and scientists, are extremely scarce. "In the second category, we need better quality, and India is going to be short of a million data consultants soon," he said.
"The demand for talent has been going up steadily, but nothing significant has been happening on the supply side," said Aditya Narain Mishra, president, staffing at the Indian unit of global recruiting firm, Randstad. IT companies and consultancies are training college graduates and upskilling existing employees. Training large numbers is not easy, said Gaurav Vohra, CEO of Jigsaw Academy. "Analytics is not just technical proficiency but an inter-disciplinary skill," he said.
Data analytics is not coding work but thinking work, described Dinesh Kumar, a professor of quantitative methods and information systems at the country's premier management school, the state-funded Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore. "The potential is huge, but we are behind in creating a talent pool," he said. Quality is a worry, and companies are finding it difficult to recruit top-class people, Kumar said.
The supply-demand mismatch has begun to show up in the form of unfilled positions in user organizations. "Up to 20% of analytics jobs are going unfilled or are being filled with difficulty," noted Mishra. Large multinational IT consultants are also feeling the talent pinch. Randstad points to a telling statistic to illustrate the skills shortage: the annual pay hikes for analytics professionals in India average 50% more than other IT workers.
Saritha Rai is an India-based journalist and commentator who covers technology, business and society from her ringside seat in Bangalore.