More education needed to close the growing big data skills gap

studying big dataIt’s no secret that the role of chief information officers has changed with the advent of new technology. Thanks to the growth of big data and the rising level of interest in all the doors it opens, CIOs and other information technology workers have a wealth of options at their fingertips. They can gather more information, they can store it, they can access it and they can use it to discern more than ever about their customers and competitors.

There’s a catch. While big data presents limitless opportunities, it also poses problems, such as: Who’s going to be in charge of this growing big data revolution? Where are these people coming from? How did they develop the tech skills needed to revolutionize IT?

Many of today’s CIOs are older and don’t have formal educational backgrounds in modern technology. If an executive is 40 today, then “big data” hardly existed when he or she was in college. The result is a massive skills gap – there’s a bustling IT industry full of talent, but the vast majority of personnel don’t have the right skills to tackle today’s business problems.

eWeek recently speculated about this problem and discussed ways that the IT industry can address it. The news source cited survey data from Gartner showing that by 2015, there will be 4.4 million new IT jobs created to support the big data movement worldwide, and 1.9 million in the United States alone.

There’s also a ripple effect to be expected on top of that – the growth of big data technicians will also lead to more tech support specialists to help with computer issues and more marketing executives who can help interpret all that data, not to mention countless other associated jobs. Gartner analyst Peter Sondergaard predicted that because of a lack of qualified applicants, only one-third of the total jobs created will be filled.

A different approach
Simply offering more analytics-oriented classes at colleges and universities is not enough to fix this problem. It will help, absolutely, but that’s a gradual change and it will take decades to see the tangible effects it will have on the IT job market. The tech world needs skilled professionals now, and it can’t subsist only off of 22-year-olds fresh out of college. It needs seasoned veterans who are also willing to acquire new skills.

The industry will have to think outside the box. This may mean offering fast-paced online courses that can bring current CIOs and other tech workers up to speed. According to eWeek, this movement is already afoot. Michael Rappa, head of the Institute for Advanced Analytics at North Carolina State University, wants to offer an analytics program that immerses people full-time for 10 months and enables them to work on projects developed by private companies and public agencies. This way, they can advance their careers while also learning through hands-on experience.

Emphasis on technology with young people is also relevant, though. Education Week recently spoke with Gary Beach, publisher emeritus of CIO Magazine, about the need to improve education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“I think Americans care deeply about improving the quality of our public education system,” Beach said. “But these reports come at you, and they’re debated, and then they’re put away on a shelf.¬† What I’m trying to do is connect the dots.”

It’s clear that closing the skills gap will be a multi-step process. Placing emphasis on educating young people is important, but it’s equally vital that the industry work to develop the talent it already has.

Big data imposes big demands on the IT industry. A lot of changes are needed to meet the challenges of tomorrow. is your place on the web for intelligent, issue driven content that helps you develop practical IT solutions and strategy.