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Talent shortage or definition failure?

Thursday, 18th July 2013

We have all read all the articles about the either current or looming shortage of analytics skills in the job market.  To look at one example Steve McDonell's Spotfire blog "Critical Shortage of "Data Geek" Talent Predicted by 2018" refers to McKinsey research which "forecasts a 50 to 60 percent gap between the supply and demand of people with deep analytical talent". (I haven't gone back to the research itself as it appears to require a login, so my references are all to what is in Steve's blog post.


The skills that seem to be most commonly referred to as being in short supply are advanced stats/maths and machine learning.  Again the blog referenced above says McKinsey looked at nine "occupational categories" which are all from disciplines that are primarily numerate.  At least it does not talk about computer science majors - you probably would not be surprised at the number of those that apply for poorly defined analytical jobs.   I don't doubt that the research was thorough and the numbers are probably right, but I am not sure I agree with the assumptions and conclusions.

I think maybe the problem is not a shortage of talent at all - maybe it is a lack of imagination in identifying the talent.  I believe the parameters of occupational categories they have looked at does not encompass the universe of where you may find analytical talent.  I also don't believe it is technical skills that should be your primary criteria for employing an analyst.

I am often asked what I look for in an analyst - my number one answer is curiosity.  A close second is the ability to solve problems.  So it was somewhat of a relief at the recent IAPA conference to have these views echoed.  Referring back to my notes (I think it was Rod Bryan from Deloitte but may have been someone else) I have a list of things suggested that, while numeracy is a prerequisite, an analyst should cultivate the following:


  • curiosity
  • problem solving
  • be commercial
  • communication
  • help people make better decisions
As to where you find these people, both my own ideas and suggestions I have had from others - I will make that the subject of my next post.


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