Companies all over the world are struggling in their efforts to scale up their Big Data and analytics operations. One of the primary reasons for that is the dearth of available data science talent in the workforce. The Big Data skills gap, as the problem has come to be known, is becoming an obsession of industry analysts and editorial departments everywhere.
To be fair, they’re right to be concerned. With Big Data skills in short supply and demand rising, the Big Data industry might face a real labor crisis in short order. Now, for those within the industry, it isn’t my intention to make you panic – far from it. In fact, there are plenty of reasons to think that the situation isn’t anywhere near as bad as the headlines would have you believe. Here’s why.
Big business is ahead of the curve
Although it is true that demand for data scientists is rising at an almost unbelievable rate, not all of that demand requires highly credentialed data scientists to satisfy. In reality, there’s been a pretty noticeable trend towards data democratization. While that may seem like it’s going to exacerbate the problem by widening the demand for skills, it is instead fuelling a boom in analytics and visualization tools that require no expertise to operate.
As those platforms proliferate, big businesses aren’t sitting around and waiting for academia to deliver a skilled workforce. Companies like Airbnb are already operating internal Big Data training programs aimed at raising the data literacy level of their entire staff, and they’re not alone. As large companies begin to put their considerable weight behind such programs, their external skills demands will decrease, relieving some of the pressure on the labor market.
The education industry responds
The education industry all around the world is far more nimble than its reputation might indicate. Although the length of coursework in a given field does induce a necessary delay in results, educational institutions on every continent have worked to adapt to growing data science demands. Available student data indicates that there has been a surge in enrollment in data science degree programs that should be producing qualified job applicants before 2020.
There has also been an increase in the number of data science degree programs available through e-learning platforms. These allow working adults to earn data science degrees and advance in their current careers. Today, it’s possible for qualified applicants to earn a master’s degree in data science without ever seeing the inside of a classroom. That’s good news for employers, as that degree is the most common level of education for today’s Big Data jobs.
AI steps up
The last and most compelling reason that indicates the Big Data skills gap won’t be the industry cataclysm many are predicting has to do with a related technology field: artificial intelligence (AI). Advancing at a dizzying speed, AI is already beginning to help automate many important parts of today’s modern business operations. Data scientists have played a key role in the rapid advance of AI, but as they say, no good deed goes unpunished. It turns out that AI is advancing so quickly, it may soon start to automate many data science professionals out of their jobs.
That coming shift will do more to erase the Big Data skills gap than almost any other single factor since it operates directly on the demand side of the equation. AI will also radically improve the efficiency of today’s Big Data operations in ways we couldn’t have even imagined a few short years ago. Of course, there will still be a strong demand for data scientists to fine-tune these AI systems, but the implications are clear where the labor market is concerned.
Relax – this has happened before
If you’re still wringing their hands over the looming shortage of labor in the data science field, consider that our economy has faced a similar – and much larger – situation before. When the Industrial Revolution in the 1800’s moved millions of workers off farms and onto factory floors, there was a skills gap that was orders of magnitude larger than what the Big Data industry faces today. Somehow, through training, innovation, and standardization, the global economy navigated the shift and thrived. There’s no reason that the same won’t be true in the present situation. After all, the market will seek equilibrium, and it usually finds it – one way or another.
To learn more about today’s most sought-after workplace skills, read Soft Skills In A Software-Driven World.