Better training: In search of next-generation IT workers

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

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.


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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By Mary Shacklett

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...