According to a recent report by digital transformation firm Atos, 40% of businesses are using data analytics in key functions such as sales or marketing, while 23% plan to implement it within the next year. By 2020, 90% of companies intend to do the same. This comes with a number of challenges, the most pressing of which is finding the requisite talent to implement data initiatives. But, with the talent gap well publicized, are universities doing everything they can to help ensure there is a pipeline there for companies to recruit from?
Analytics skills are already in extremely high demand, largely outstripping supply. A study by McKinsey, for one, projects that ‘by 2018, the US alone may face a 50% to 60% gap between supply and requisite demand of deep analytic talent.’ And this is only going to deepen, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimating that the number of roles for individuals with this skill set will grow by 30% over the next seven years. Many believe that data analytics is no longer just a useful addition to a CV, it is now essential. Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet, for one, recently told CNBC, ‘I think a basic understanding of data analytics is incredibly important for this next generation of young people. That’s the world you’re going into.’ Jonathan Rosenberg, adviser to CEO Larry Page, agreed, adding that, ‘My favorite statement that echoes Eric’s is ‘Data is the sword of the 21st century, those who wield it well, the samurai.’’
Asking Google if data is important is a bit like asking Ford if cars are the future of transport, but they are not alone. In Alteryx’s ‘The Business Grammar Report’, 26% of business leaders in the UK said they believe that data and analytics are the most important skills for potential employees, while 60% consider them to be one of the top two skills. Alteryx VP EMEA Stuart Wilson added further that it had found that business leaders would be willing to offer a 30% higher salary to someone that has data skills over someone who doesn’t.
Universities are already catering for this demand to an extent. Business schools have been criticized in the past for not being innovative enough and failing to keep pace with change. David Sproul, chief executive of Deloitte UK, is among those to call on business schools to do more to make technology a more central part of the curriculum, citing the ever-evolving threat of cyber-attacks and the risk of disruptive innovation. But, in fairness, universities have been quick to develop data analytics courses, with almost 100 schools now offering data-related undergraduate and graduate degrees, as well as certificates for working professional or graduate students wanting to augment other degrees. MIT’s Sloan School of Management, for example, will this year take 30 graduates in their new one-year course, which will only be the prelude to a spell in a Big Data finishing school. This first cohort of students will pay $75,000 in tuition fees for their Master of Business Analytics degree, with classes ranging from ‘Data mining: Finding the Data and Models that Create Value’ to ‘Applied Probability’. In the UK, Imperial College’s one-year MSc in business analytics will run you close to ?26,000 ($32,000) and is in only its first year of operation.
In many people’s eyes, though, they have not gone far enough. In Alteryx’s survey, 79% of respondents said that the skill should be made a compulsory part of MBA programmes, and given that it is now essential in more or less every job it is hard to disagree. Indeed, you could probably make an argument for it being present in some form on courses in every discipline, not just business but humanities and other social sciences. Conspiracy theorists might argue that universities have a vested interest in restricting data analytics skills to certain courses because they can charge more for them. This additional cost is easily justified because they are compensated for by the high wages and employability. Melissa Bowers, director of the business analytics master’s program at the University of Tennessee’s Haslam College of Business, says her business analytics master’s program has placed 100% of its graduates within three months of graduation since its first class graduated in 2011. According to the University of Tennessee—Knoxville website, the average base salary of 2015 graduates from its business analytics master’s program was $80,800, and the average total salary of 2015 graduates, including signing bonuses and stock options, was $86,800. These theories are unlikely to be true, with backward-thinking and a failure to keep up the far more likely option. However, by failing to include data analytics on MBAs, universities are doing their students a huge disservice, whether through design or mere backward-thinking. In order to meet the needs of organizations in the future, and young people entering employment, data analytics skills alongside business knowledge will be necessary to fill the data talent gap, and it must be made a compulsory component of MBAs.