It is no secret that the proliferation of Big Data has disrupted many industries in the past few years; however, the labor market has been slow to adapt.  This is due, in part, to the lack of educational opportunities for individuals to develop the requisite skill set to jump into a data scientist role.  While these positions were initially filled with PhDs, that source has effectively dried up and companies are looking elsewhere to find their next “diamond in the rough” data scientist.

McKinsey made waves with their 2011 report declaring that, “The United States alone faces a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with analytical expertise and 1.5 million managers and analysts with the skills to understand and make decisions based on the analysis of Big Data.”

This shortage we’re experiencing begins at the University level.  As I continue my education at the University of Pittsburgh, there isn’t a defined track for an individual like myself to gain the necessary skills for a career in analytics and data science.  From statistics, to mathematics, to business acumen and an understanding of database management, these diverse skills are difficult to knit into one package in a 4-year education (especially when it is still rife with stale humanities requirements).

However, some are trying.

Industry leaders are teaming up with academia in order to fill the void and deliver the next generation of data scientists.  While academia is notoriously slow to adapt and react to changes in the workforce environment, the advent and growing importance of Big Data is prompting industry leaders to usher in change at the University level.  Instead of waiting idly in hope that universities will churn out employable individuals, companies such as IBM are taking it upon themselves to cultivate a generation of students proficient in the skills they desire most: mathematics, programming, and business acumen.  This ideal combination makes individuals uniquely positioned to provide strategic insight into a company’s operations and be able to present that to high-ranking officials in the organization – a skill often overlooked by some of this generation’s brightest technical minds.  It is no surprise that people with this set of skills would be highly desirable to a growing number of companies.

In May 2014, IBM announced that it would be partnering with 28 Universities around the country, mostly flagship public schools, in order to develop programs centered on analytics and the practical use of data science in business.  According to their announcement:  “To embrace this growing opportunity [Big Data], companies today must hire a workforce with a broad range of Big Data and Analytics expertise. IBM is dedicated to partnering with academic institutions and providing students with the skills needed to make an impact.”

This initiative should be quite pleasing to business leaders in all industries, as a study revealed that 83% of businesses regard Big Data as an important part of their plan to become more competitive.

As the old adage goes, only build when you can’t buy.  The time has come in the Big Data labor market where it is not only expensive to buy – it’s nearly impossible.  The scarcity of skilled individuals has driven up the price so high that companies, like IBM, recognize the importance of building their future employees from the ground up.

I think that this model could be a paradigm shift for the entire educational industry.  Why guess what employers want, when you could have them design the curricula themselves?  This seems like the most surefire way to combat the growing problem of post-graduation unemployment.  And it is a big problem.  As of 2014, young college graduates suffer from both unemployment and underemployment at rates of 8.5% and 16.8%, respectively (Economic Policy Institute). These numbers are above the national average, and something needs to be done.

This mutually-beneficial arrangement provides security for undergraduates who know that they are pursuing existing jobs and developing marketable skills, and it helps Universities address the ever-important metric of post-graduation employment.  It seems like Big Data has the potential to disrupt yet another industry.

Hopefully, the academic environment will be able to respond to the dire needs of industry, with a push from IBM and other industry leaders, of course.