The job market for individuals with analytical skills is hot, and it’s only getting hotter. A recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute puts the situation in perspective, citing a shortfall of nearly 200,000 professionals with strong analytical skills by the year 2018. Businesses are looking to colleges and universities to help fill that gap, asking them to provide their students with the analytical skills they need to fill many of these currently vacant analytical roles.
How students can prepare for a career in analytics, and the role universities play in preparing them, is the focus of Dursun Delen’s recent article, Mandate for STEM Educators, found in the August issue of INFORMS magazine. Given the shortage, Delen, a professor of business analytics within the Department of Management Science and Information Systems at the Spears School of Business at Oklahoma State University, says educators haven’t had a “mandate this clear since the space race of the 1960s.”
And, the demand for analytics professionals doesn’t show any signs of abating any time soon. That’s great news for students educated in analytics. With so many businesses around the world looking to hire in support of their big data initiatives, these students are stepping squarely into a seller’s job market – a rare occurrence for many new graduates.
But that only works if the student is well prepared. In his article, Delen outlines three areas that will provide a firm foundation from which a student can build his analytical career.
Three critical areas of analytics
First, is descriptive analytics, a simple concept but critical in solving big data problems. Descriptive analytics uses a sample of a given population or data set to report on and draw conclusions without having to use all data points. With the amount of data collected in today’s digital world, students with strong skills in descriptive statistics – think mean, median, standard deviation and a number of other reporting skills – is non-negotiable.
Delen cites predictive analytics as the second area critical to any analytical professional’s knowledge base. Of course, predictive analytics builds on descriptive analytics by using advanced statistical techniques, like data or text mining, to go beyond the snapshot descriptive analytics provides. According to Delen, predictive analytics builds a model to forecast future trends, understand customers, improve business performance, drive strategic decision-making and predict behavior.
Delen says the third layer in the “analytics hierarchy” is prescriptive analytics. Prescriptive analytics goes beyond even predictive analytics by identifying the optimal decision from the universe of options. Delen says techniques in prescriptive analytics include optimization and simulation, methods that can have the greatest impact for companies using advanced analytics.
SAS partners with universities to expand students' analytical skills
To help build a student’s expertise in analytics, a number of universities have created advanced degree or certificate programs in analytics. In addition to course work, many of these schools partner with area businesses to provide practical experience solving real-world problems.
SAS plays a critical role in many of these programs by partnering with universities to offer master of analytics, applied statistics, data analytics and a number of other degrees that use SAS software as the analytical tool of choice. Other schools offer joint certificate programs, marrying course content with SAS knowledge. (If you’re a student looking for such a program, here’s a list of the master programs with a SAS focus, as well as joint SAS/university certificate programs.)
Delen says cloud-based technology makes it even easier for companies like SAS to get software in the hands of students as well. He cites the Teradata University Network (TUN) as a great example of how software providers can provide the tools and resources professors need to ensure that their students have access to various technologies. Experience with analytical software and advanced technologies will serve students well as they launch their professional careers.
Delen talks about the importance of hands-on experience in the education of students, which is one reason why SAS, along with the INFORMS Analytics Section, sponsors the Student Analytical Scholar Competition. The purpose of the competition is to practice the process of structuring and presenting a compelling proposal for analytical work in the prescriptive analytics realm. Students read a case study that is based on a real-life project involving optimization and/or simulation and must craft a document known as a “Statement of Work” (SOW). Such documents are usually created early in a project, after some exploratory work, but may or may not fully define the problem. The challenge requires students to combine the “hard” STEM skills they’ve learned along with “soft” skills like business problem framing, communication, and presentation, just as they would have to do if they were competing to win business.
If you’re a student interested in pursuing a career in analytics, I encourage you to read Delen’s full article on the INFORMS website and learn more about the work SAS is doing in support of teaching, learning and research in education.