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Growing demand of data scientists threatens global product development

Growing demand of data scientists threatens global product development

It’s been nearly a decade since the Harvard Business Review deemed data scientist “the sexiest job of the 21st century,” but demand for data scientists is still on the rise. In fact, the need for data skills is rising so sharply that it’s likely to disrupt global product development, according to a report from IBM […]

It’s been nearly a decade since the Harvard Business Review deemed data scientist “the sexiest job of the 21st century,” but demand for data scientists is still on the rise. In fact, the need for data skills is rising so sharply that it’s likely to disrupt global product development, according to a report from IBM (PDF link).

The issue, according to the report, is that demand is outstripping supply. Data science job postings remain open an average of five days longer than most jobs. Senior jobs “take far longer to fill.” That’s despite the above-average salaries on offer when data science positions are compared to other business analyst roles. 

Companies are desperate for data skills because of the returns they can generate. “Companies in the top third of their industry in the use of data-driven decision making were, on average, 5% more productive and 6% more profitable than their competitors,” write Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson in Harvard Business Review. 

The hiring, onboarding, and training process for data professionals is more expensive than it is for many other positions, due to factors such as the talent shortage and the technical demands of getting even a well-trained data scientist up to speed with a company’s existing tools and tech stack. To work effectively, data scientists often also require new tooling, which further increases the cost of a new hire.

The increased demand for data skills is expected to continue. The IBM report predicts demand will grow by 15% through 2020, and demand for “data scientists and advanced analysts” will grow by nearly 30%. 

All of this has the potential to add up to a product development slowdown. Companies don’t want to move without insights from their data, but the process of hiring data professionals is now challenging enough that the productivity gains companies are getting from big data could come “to a grinding halt,” according to the IBM report. 

Thankfully, data skills training is also on the upswing. Educational organizations from universities to online platforms are spinning up data science certificate programs, data science training events, data science bootcamps, and other programs to help increase the pool of qualified data science job candidates. 

Newly-trained data scientists won’t entirely solve the problem, though. Many companies are looking for highly-experienced hires — roles that an influx of new data scientists won’t be able to easily fill. 

To avoid delaying their own product development processes, companies may be forced to either lower their experience requirements for some data positions or raise their salary offers to beat competitors to the small number of highly-experienced data professionals on the job market.

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