IBM IOD 2012: Industry and academia must unite to fill Big Data talent gap

News 24 Oct, 2012

We’re heading for another skills shortage if we don’t start meeting demand with supply for Big Data talent, IBM has warned.

The good news is analyst firm Gartner has predicted Big Data will create 4.4 million tech jobs around the world. The bad news is we don’t have enough skilled workers to fill those roles.

As a result, we could be headed fast and furious into another skills shortage, and one that threatens to negate any of the opportunities afforded by Big Data, according to both the analyst firm and tech giant IBM.

“In addition, every Big Data-related role in the US will create employment for three people outside of IT, so over the next four years a total of six million jobs in the US will be generated by the information economy,” said Peter Sondergaard, Gartner’s senior vice president and head of research.

“But there is a challenge. There is not enough talent in the industry. Our public and private education systems are failing us. Therefore, only one-third of the IT jobs will be filled. Data experts will be a scarce, valuable commodity. IT leaders will need immediate focus on how their organisation develops and attracts the skills required. These jobs will be needed to grow your business. These jobs are the future of the new information economy.”

IBM today announced the winners of its Watson Case Competition, which was designed to help students gain the necessary analytical skills industry demands by showcasing their talent. The initiative was held in partnership with Cornell University and saw 55 students become part of a Watson Commercialisation team over a 48-hour period during which they had to come up with a viable, industry specific application.

“Industry has clearly demonstrated a need but education has to fill that critical void,” said Stephen Gold, worldwide director of marketing for Watson solutions, during a panel debate at the company’s Information on Demand (IOD) conference this week in Las Vegas.

"Recognising that a practical understanding of analytics is key for 21st century jobs and firm competitive success, we continue to work hard to inspire universities and students around the country to engage in the many programs we have to offer such as case competitions and faculty awards," said Manoj Saxena, general manager at IBM Watson Solutions.

"IBM is leading the way for a new generation of thinkers by helping these academic institutions expand curriculums that enhance kills in analytics and cognitive computing. Graduates will enter the workforce with a unique set of skills giving them an early advantage as the next era of cognitive computing and analytics continue to impact every facet of business."

The need for greater co-operation and collaboration between education and the corporate world was echoed by a number of academics taking part in the panel discussion at IOD.

“Having a nice collection of things using a database is fine if you can only get people to put that in the database in the first place and design it sensibly. But when you have this mass of completely messy data – you can’t get enough people to enter the data even if they knew how to do it,” said Cornell University’s Professor Graeme Bailey.

“The things that were done with Watson on Jeopardy! was great. And it shows a starting point. A starting point which succeeded. But we still have a long way to go, which is the whole point of developing partnerships, between development and industries.”

He concluded: “Somebody knows the right answer somewhere. But you need knowledge now to make decisions and that is what all this Big Data ‘stuff’ is about.”