The Race to Hire IoT and Big Data Talent

Computer DesksEvery big new technology advancement brings a challenge – the inevitable talent shortage when IT workers upgrade skills to new platforms and systems and the scramble by employers trying to keep pace.

Companies pursuing Internet of Things and Big Data strategies are finding analytics expertise is in particularly short supply and it’s expected to become more scarce as the field expands. McKinsey Global Institute forecasts a shortage of trained analytics professionals could total 140,000 to 190,000 unfilled jobs in the U.S. by 2018.

In IoT that key hire is often the data scientist or data architect.

“The data scientist has become the unicorn of the big data world,” said Rob Patterson, VP of corporate strategy at ColdLight, a PTC business. “It has been extremely difficult finding those people with programming skills, mathematical expertise, and business acumen. Keeping the development process creative and collaborative while having the best talent available next to you is how you retain big data talent.”

Bidding wars that drive salaries skyward are just part of the story.

Colleges, companies and corporate training programs are rushing to revamp courses and professional development tracks for a new critical set of computer science and line-of-business skill sets – and requirements are still emerging.

E-commerce, mobile, apps, and data security each burst on the scene as ‘must-have’ corporate priorities that included unique experience and software skills, spawning fierce competition for people and platform knowledge. Big Data analytics is no exception – but you can avoid becoming a victim of circumstances.

Successful organizations are creating a talent strategy that enables overall goals, advises PwC. Companies that establish a talent strategy to enable business strategy have seen performance gains including a survey that reported 85 percent stronger financial performance and 75 percent higher revenue growth.

Some companies are starting as early as high school to tap the skill-building pipeline, according to the Economist, which profiled a program called P-Tech. And ‘talent-matching’ that suggests skills for employers has replaced ‘job search’ as schools, employers and government agencies join forces to assist the workforce of the future.

Planning for the long haul makes a difference for both workers and employers, adds Sadalit Van Buren, partner technology strategist for Microsoft in Cambridge, MA. A company she knows had an open job requirement for a data architect that went unfilled for two years.

Start at the top by hiring a senior person who can recruit using his or her network, Van Buren said, however, be aware that this introduces the risk of the key person leaving the company and then taking the whole team along. For more junior positions, provide a pathway to more skills, certifications or advancement to create a career roadmap for growth.

“I know of one tech consulting firm that established a program to place new hires in a yearlong apprenticeship to train them on skills the firm needs. They then offer these folks for staff augmentation projects to clients – doing the kind of billable work that more senior people typically don’t like to do,” Van Buren said.

One characteristic of strong candidates is an innate curiosity for doing more with data skills and database knowledge in equal measure, said Chris Selland, VP-marketing at Vertica, the Big Data analytics subsidiary of HP. While smaller companies are looking to solve specific industry challenges, larger employers are seeking broader, strategic IoT experience and applying it in new ways.

“It’s as much the technical talent as problem-solving, value proposition and as IoT takes off it’s going to scale the need for infrastructure and legacy data warehouse knowledge,” Selland said.

There are some changes that need managing as programming languages and analytics platforms evolve – R for modeling is popular among younger, recent college graduates while SAS is widely used by people over 40, he added.

Headhunters and placement companies like Eliassen Group are advising clients on management, hiring strategies and technology, said COO Tom Hart. Companies are finding it difficult to shift from a Big Data test project with limited staffing to full teams prepared to manage strategic multi-year initiatives. Setting priorities and working backward from the desired outcome helps determine whether to use in-house talent or an outside consultant.

“What can often work in your favor, when faced with the challenge of finding people who possess knowledge of the latest technology, is being known as a company that fosters and embraces leading edge technology adoption, and willing to make an investment in the cost of talent to achieve the desired business results,” concluded Hart.