Jobs Working With 'Big Data' Expected To Increase Considerably in Coming Years

Demand for data analysis skills will continue to grow

By Joseph Coombs Nov 4, 2016
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​If you are an HR professional, there is an excellent chance you have been told to warm up to "big data" as a means of performing your job. These large collections of information are increasingly used to reveal behaviors and societal trends, and they are heavily relied upon for recruiting tactics, measuring employee engagement and countless other business operations.

And if you're still not convinced that big data is here to stay, consider what was recently revealed in China. A policy document cited by The Washington Post detailed the Chinese government's plans to use big data to build a "culture of sincerity" and a "harmonious socialist society." To achieve that, the government would collect any information available online about residents and businesses and then assign each of them a score "based on their political, commercial, social and legal 'credit,' " according to the Post.

This is not to suggest that we're headed for that level of Big Brother supervision in the United States. However, new research from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and other organizations shows that demand for jobs working with big data will jump considerably in the coming years and that HR professionals need to be aware of this trend.

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SHRM's "Jobs of the Future" survey findings, released Nov. 14 and sponsored by the American Statistical Association, examines data analysis skills in the U.S. labor force. Among the survey's highlights: An overwhelming majority of organizations surveyed have positions that require data analysis skills, and in the last 12 months, a majority of respondents reported difficulty recruiting for data analysis positions.

The most common functional areas for data analysis positions are accounting and finance, human resources and business administration, according to the survey. As more organizations rely on data collection for business operations, demand for related employment will grow, and at a much higher rate than the U.S. labor force overall, according to federal projections.

The number of statistician positions, for example, will increase by 33.8 percent from 2014 to 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Overall, the number of jobs in the U.S. labor force will increase by just 6.5 percent during that same period. Also ahead of the overall pace are operations research analyst positions (an increase of 30.2 percent) and market research analysts and marketing specialists (an increase of 18.6 percent from 2014 to 2024).

Perhaps complicating matters for HR professionals is the fact that big data employment often requires high-skilled individuals to fill those positions. SHRM's survey found that a sizable majority of organizations required a moderate skill level for data analysis positions, and a majority had a need for either basic or advanced level skills.

Other research has shown that HR departments need to devote more resources toward data-related employment at their organizations. Chief financial officers "may not be able to maximize the potential value of big data" due to difficulties attracting and retaining the professionals with the requisite expertise, according to an April 2016 study by global staffing firm Robert Half International and the Institute of Management Accountants. The most severe skill gaps, according to the study, included the ability to identify key data trends, data mining and extraction, and operational analysis, among others.

"To successfully build teams with the necessary skills, financial leaders need to establish a comprehensive recruiting process and professional development program," said Paul McDonald, Robert Half's senior executive director.

Technology advancement is also one of three "major forces" shaping the U.S. job market, according to a September survey by CareerBuilder. Database administrator positions, for example, grew by 9 percent between 2012 and 2016, due in part to the fact that "technology is enabling companies to corral and interpret big data to make better business decisions," the survey said.

The bottom line for HR professionals? If they haven't already, it's time to make room for big data when developing talent acquisition strategies.

Joseph Coombs is a senior analyst for workforce trends at SHRM. 

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