The growing shortage of analytical talent and where to find it


That there is a growing shortage of analytical talent in most of the economies of the world is clear. In a May 2011 report, the McKinsey Global Institute put some numbers on the demand: “By 2018, the United States alone could face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with the know-how to use the analysis of big data to make effective decisions.”

When organisations, both large and small, invest in analytical software, a key consideration has to be building a team to use analytics to find the insight in their data and  maximise the software investment. Especially in the brave new world of "big data," large firms will need teams of analysts to bring together the expertise needed to understand their data, think up innovative ways to analyse it, select the hardware and software and write the programs to get the information that business users need to make better decisions. All too often, however, this process is minimised.

Much has been written about the organisational change management required in order for businesses to truly compete on analytics, for example by establishing Business Intelligence or Analytics Competency Centres. This change management process moves analytics to the centre of business decision making and operations processes, meaning that the skilled analytical talent becomes highly valued key personnel.

The additional skills required by businesses moving towards this more sophisticated use of their data assets are not cheaply acquired, and often underestimated. Increasingly these skills can be a strategic investment for companies, but one that can pay off richly from the gains in competitive advantage.

My experience and that of my fellow colleagues who work in SAS offices around the world with our Global Academic Programme indicates that broad-based analytical degrees from universities with Maths and Statistics departments usually provide the depth of analytical insight required by businesses. Standard "business school stats" generally do not, although this obviously depends on the academic rigour of the individual school. In particular, though, specialist masters degrees in analytical disciplines provide the kind of quantitative skills that enable organisations to move from "stats lite" to "analytics driven."

In addition to the quantitative skills, to be successful in industry, the student needs to have an understanding and experience of the business value of analytics and where it fits in the cycle of data through the organisation. This combination of advanced quantitative, business skills and exposure to real-life problem solving is therefore best found in business schools that take quantitative studies seriously. For this reason, the SAS Global Academic Programme develops partnerships with leading business schools around the world to ensure that customers are able to recruit graduates with the right combination of skills to be successful.

While academic degree programs aim to give students a strong foundation in the theory of their discipline, sometimes businesses find that recent graduates lack experience applying that education to solving business problems. Some university programs have chosen to incorporate business cases and the application of SAS into their curriculum as a way to teach students more applied skills. By way of example, here are links to these kinds of SAS-based programmes in leading business schools around the world. These programs are typically eager to partner with industry to ensure the relevance of their programs and to place their graduates in positions. More details about partnerships in your region can be obtained from your local country SAS Academic Programme.



About Author

Geoffrey Taylor

SAS Academic Programme Manager, UK & Ireland

I have worked at SAS UK for 15 years in various roles relating to education. For the past 6 years I've managed the Academic Programme, gradually moving it to a valued strategic resource within the company. I'm passionate about helping students appreciate what knowledge of SAS can mean for their future careers.


  1. Someone posted a comment on my blog recently that he had years of experience with big data, had applied for 30 positions, was willing to accept a reasonable salary & was still unemployed 6 months later. He argued that the shortage of analytic professionals was a myth. I don't think so, but I haven't really been on the job market in 20 years - every job I've had sort of fell in my lap. That kind of argues for the shortage of analytic professionals, but I hardly want to generalize from a non-random sample of 1, nor from me and my friends (almost all of whom are employed and doing well).

    Do you have any better data to back up my general impression of "Me & my six best friends are doing fine"?

  2. Yes, I agree totally with the posted comments. I have a long experience, two graduate degrees in Analytics disciplines and a great zeal, passion to apply and be productive useful Analytics Professional. I get all kinds of wanna be employers, but none would still take the bite. It is both frustrating and disappointing, may be I am not the part of McKinsey Report. Maybe they want college grads with few yr experience.

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  5. I read the comments posted by readers. Irrespective of the demand in the Analytics industry, it is who we know that matters. Recruiters get 200 resumes for a single position and most of them are fake.

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