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Shaping the Future of Work: Bridging the Data & Analytics Skills Gap Through Structured Learning

By: Valentina Subow

The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has accelerated key trends shaping the future of work. Not only have workforces adapted to remote working models much more seamlessly than anticipated; they have also innovated the talent acquisition and onboarding processes, as well as reimagined how to socialize and celebrate together. These are just some of the ways in which workforces across the globe have shifted their approaches to work. It’s difficult to predict which developments are likely to last, though we are starting to discover what the future of work might look like

And while new trends continue to emerge in light of the pandemic and its effects, certain trends have continued to grow in accordance with pre-pandemic projections. One of these is the increasing demand for data & analytics skill sets, and the corresponding talent gap. 

Understanding the data & analytics supply and demand gap 

A comprehensive study by PwC finds that nearly 70% of business leaders in the United States will prefer job applicants with data skills by 2021. Jobs requiring data & analytics skills span everything from domain specialists with unique data skills to roles more closely resembling software engineering profiles, such as data engineers or data scientists, integrating highly interdisciplinary and technical skill sets. 

The American Statistical Association (ASA) and Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) corroborate these findings, pointing to more public and private sector employers adding statisticians and data analysts to their ranks. 

Further, the Business Higher Education Forum (BHEF) reports that by 2021, 69% of U.S. executives will prefer job candidates with data skills yet only 23% of educators believe their graduates will possess these skills. Thus far, the COVID-19 crisis has not stemmed the demand for data & analytics skill sets in any significant way. 

Recognizing the need to fill the supply gap for roles demanding data & analytics skills, hundreds of colleges and universities have created data & analytics courses and degree programs. This shift occurs at the same time as a reported the boom in data & analytics bootcamps

However, bootcamps and specialized degrees tend to focus on theoretical problem-solving. Additionally, real-world methodologies such as different forms of project management, requirements analysis, and more, are often left out of data & analytics curricula altogether. Consequently, these programs often miss the mark when it comes to preparing prospective talent to effectively tackle real-world challenges that might require data & analytics expertise. 

Connecting business value and impact to data & analytics projects is a key value proposition for hiring talent with data & analytics competencies. At worst, the expectation of graduates and real-world demand are at odds with each other. 

Bridging the gap with structured internships 

A different set of talent development strategies are required to meaningfully address the gap between data & analytics graduates and real-world demand for data-focused skill sets during the pandemic and beyond. 

SEI’s Washington, D.C. office is piloting a data & analytics internship program tailored to this need, bridging the gap between a new generation of data & analytics professionals and rising market demand for data & analytics talent. The internship is a structured training program, taking place 100% virtually. The intern will learn from SEI’s experienced data & analytics professionals through various modules, beginning with data strategy, data engineering, data visualization, and data science, and culminating in a capstone project applying gained knowledge, methods, and strategies to a real-world business problem. 

Shadowing seasoned practitioners and learning in a hands-on environment enables interns to experience different working styles, which resembles the natural variation of the real-world professional experience and empowers learners to become more adaptable in the face of unanticipated challenges. 

However, the internship offers skills- and confidence-building beyond the technical side of things. Functional skills and experiences such as managing time and expectations, committing to deadlines and deliverables, presenting findings, and communicating roadblocks are all part of the professional data & analytics experience that can be practiced in a collaborative and highly supportive environment during a structured internship.

Shaping the future of work

The COVID-19 crisis and the growing demand for data & analytics talent has forced many organizations SEI included to reevaluate how to hone skill sets and develop talent under unforeseen circumstances. 

SEI’s highly collaborative approach to work lends itself to sharing expertise with the next generation of data & analytics professionals. While the pandemic has made it more difficult to develop meaningful training programs, we believe that experimenting with and innovating around tried and tested programs like internships will help propel the future of work. A well-designed internship helps cultivate and foster in-demand skills beyond the technical demands of a given role, preparing new talent to thrive in the context of real-world experiences and challenges. 

As technological and business innovation continues to accelerate, so too must our means of equipping the workforce of the future with the tools to succeed. 

Valentina Subow

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