Companies—and HR Departments—Need Data Analysts

The demand for people who can interpret data will grow across industries—and within HR.

By Jen Schramm Feb 28, 2017
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Move over, people skills. The proficiency that gets you your next HR job might just be number crunching. Today’s human resource departments rely heavily on people who can break down and analyze lots of information, and demand for that talent is growing. That’s no surprise: As technology advances and jobs evolve at warp speed, the task of workforce planning is getting more complex.

More than half of HR departments are using “big data” to help make strategic decisions, especially for sourcing, recruiting and hiring. Beyond HR, several occupations are expected to see a high demand over the next five to 10 years for people who can critically evaluate information, according to a new Jobs of the Future survey report from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). That means HR professionals will face a tightening labor market when recruiting for these jobs, which include financial analyst, market research analyst, research manager, and, of course, data analyst and statistician.

A whopping 80 percent of companies have positions that require people with good data-interpretation skills. Usually, these are full-time jobs at the middle management and individual contributor levels. But 60 percent of organizations also require senior managers or executives to be adept with data. (The report defines data analysis as "the ability to gather, analyze and draw practical conclusions from data, as well as communicate data findings to others.")

HR professionals most commonly report that their companies need data specialists with moderate skill levels. For these positions, candidates typically must have a bachelor’s degree; one-third of organizations prefer a degree in analytics, computer science or statistics. For advanced skills, some employers require a master’s degree. However, job announcements often don’t specify or require a particular field of study.

About 60 percent of organizations expect to increase the number of people they employ in data analytics jobs in the next five years, according to SHRM’s survey of HR professionals in several industries. Not surprisingly, this has led to recruiting difficulty in the last year for more than three-quarters of employers.

[SHRM members-only resource: HR Q&AStaffing: Planning: How does the use of trend analysis fit into the overall workplace planning process?]

If you’re planning for future staffing needs, recognize that the rapid pace of technological development could mean that data analysts will need to learn and train almost constantly to keep up-to-date, regardless of the field in which they work. For HR professionals, that means staying well-informed about the talent analytics required in their companies and their own department.

As the need for higher-level skills in data analysis increases, many organizations are likely to experience a shortage of qualified workers. HR departments will need to step up their own professional development and training programs and to focus even more heavily on effective recruiting and retention efforts. That may be where those people skills will come in handy.

Jen Schramm is former manager of the Workforce Trends program at SHRM.

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