As it unfolds before us, the next generation of IT workers
will work in more highly automated environments that combine both in-sourced
and out-sourced technologies that businesses will expect to get immediate value
from.

No more is this drive to the next generation more keenly
felt than in big data and analytics.

A recent IBM
Institute for Business Value
study surveyed 900 business and IT executives
from 70 countries. Eighty percent of respondents
are evaluating the impact of their analytics investments, 60 percent already have
predictive analytics capabilities, and “leaders” who were perceived
to be proactive in engaging analytics in their organizations were more than two
times likely than average to have formal career paths for analytics professionals.

The market is definitely on fire
for analytics pros – but just where do you find them?

“We hire many of our people
right out of college,” said one CEO of a healthcare cloud analytics
vendor. The logic was that the company already had the internal analytics
expertise to train these recruits, and that there was real advantage to hiring
people “new” to industry because it also gave the company the ability
to train these new arrivals in to cultural values like customer service
excellence that the company places great value on.

Unfortunately, for most organizations “training in”
folks on big data and analytics aren’t a strong option.

Gaps

The IBM study found that companies were discovering large
skills gaps when it came to recruiting individuals with the ability to combine
analytics skills with business knowledge. In fact, one-third of survey respondents
cited the lack of skills to analyze and interpret data into meaningful business
actions as the top business challenge impeding better use of analytics within
their organizations.

On the other side of this equation sit the academic establishment
and the big data/analytics vendors themselves.

Pressed to show not only strength of educational offerings
but also the ability to place graduates in employment openings, universities themselves
are using big data and analytics to determine job market trends and to make appropriate
revisions in their curricula so they stay in step with what employers want. An
example is Germany’s University
of Telecommunications Leipzig
, which analyzes thousands of telecommunications
job postings to determine employment market trends. Because the university now
has this predictive capability for the telecommunications job market, it is
able to respond by developing new courses in 2.5 months instead of 12 months.

“We now see patterns in how technology companies hire:
what skills they need, which new methodologies are being used and which
technologies our students need to be familiar with. This insight helps students
choose academic paths with jobs at the end, which makes us a more competitive
institution,” said Dr.
Frank Bensberg, the University’s Senior Expert, HR Development
(PDF).

Undoubtedly, analytics and big data expertise is one of the
skillsets the University sees through its analytics lens.

But just seeing the need doesn’t necessarily position you to
offer what industry needs. Academia is often hampered by its historical
emphasis on theoretical knowledge that doesn’t match up well to the day-in,
day-out needs that companies have.

Vendors like IBM see this. It is one reason why they offer
training on big data and analytics technologies
(PDF) to educators in
higher learning institutions so they can teach these new skills, and free online training on big data to
whoever wants to partake in it.

Does this necessarily address the entire big data skills
problem in companies?

Not quite.

An area still sadly lacking is the development of great
communicators and “solution brokers” within the business who can gather
together big data stakeholders, achieve consensus on project direction, push
for results, and nurture productive and purposeful environments.

The irony is that many of the people who excel in these
skills do not come from the technical ranks that formal education targets. Instead,
they might graduate from universities with degrees in literature, English,
history, and even music!

Can this skillset be taught?

Companies regularly send up and coming technology employees
to people skills and project management classes – but the truth is, some of IT’s
most highly skilled technical workers lack aptitude (or personal preference)
for non-technical IT roles. This is one reason why a major aerospace company nearly
30 years ago went on its own mission to find liberal arts graduates who were
bright enough to pick up the “IT stuff,” and who could work
effectively as business analysts who could bring everyone together in projects.

If you are in IT or HR personnel planning for “nextgen”
technology professionals, then, your “next steps” are clear:

  • Develop a formal training
    and skills acquisition plan that will be able to satisfy your big data and
    analytics needs today and in the future;
  • Collaborate with universities
    and vendors as they develop big data training that will benefit your company;
    and
  • Don’t forget about the “nontechnical”
    types who can ultimately bring the “axle grease” to keep
    projects from bogging down politically.


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