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Digital Economy: Big Data, Skills and Education

by Peter Sondergaard  |  September 10, 2013  |  1 Comment

You’ve probably heard it many times yourself, but in my opinion very few quotes relevant to the IT industry measure up to the iconic words of Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE, when he said: “More people will graduate in the United States in 2006 with sports-exercise degrees than electrical-engineering degrees. So, if we want to be the massage capital of the world, we’re well on our way.”

Has anything changed since 2006? Everything and nothing.

Enrollment data for Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths (STEM) in the US shows that the growth rate was 8.7% from 2007 to 2011. But not everyone graduates from the course they start. Georgetown University estimated that out of the students admitted in the STEM degree courses only 62% emerge as a STEM graduate.

So STEM graduations are on the up, but at nowhere near the pace needed to meet the massive demand for their skills driven by the digitalization of business.

This has lead to a jobs crisis in IT today. Seven years after Mr. Immelt called time on the challenge we face to meet the needs of the IT economy, our challenges are only getting tougher.

Undoubtedly, Big Data is the accelerant being poured onto the fire under this burning bridge for CIOs. If you were one of the 6,000+ CIOs who attended Gartner Symposium/ITxpo last year, you’ll remember us stating that Big Data is creating big jobs. We predicted that 4.4 Million IT jobs globally would be created to support Big Data by 2015 but only one third of those jobs would be filled.

As stocks reduce and the fish get harder to catch, the net is getting wider and wider to satiate the CIOs hunger for talent.

Our recommendations then still apply. They were:

  • Begin now to retrain senior staff in advanced statistical analysis, information management and visualization principles. Even if they are not assigned to big data initiatives, being skilled in these concepts will be fundamental to success in the coming years.
  • Develop distinct business cases and evaluate their benefits, with costs for premium skills in mind.
  • Determine what new roles will be needed, and begin to train or acquire the information skills needed to leverage big data strategically.
  • Develop new hiring practices to recruit for the new nontraditional IT roles, such as linguists, artists and designers. Recruiters ought to be prepared for a dearth of candidates.

In our preparation for the upcoming Gartner Symposium/ITxpo series, we have learnt that CIOs in leading organizations are seeking to overcome this skills shortage by recruiting from a much broader field of talent. CIOs are finding the problem-solving and analytical skills they need for their organizations among biology and chemistry based graduates, most notably those found in the pharmaceutical industry. And even in other large economies where STEM graduation rates are higher, such as the UK and Germany with growth rates of 10.6% and 23.9% respectively, demand outstrips supply.

Long term, fishing in other pools for talent this isn’t a sustainable solution. It’s merely a stopgap that can’t possibly cope with the cataclysmic changes we face to adapt to the rapidly changing demands of our industry.

At Gartner Symposium/ITxpo this year, we will introduce the concept of the new digital industrial age. We will talk about the leadership, skills, resources and technologies that are needed to succeed as we enter this new digital industrial age. And we will share how we believe entire industries will be reshaped, digitally re-mastered in fact, and what it will mean to lead in the digital world. We believe this requires us—demands us—to fundamentally rethink how CIOs and their c-level colleagues face the future.

In my next post, I’ll share a deeper insight into these ideas and will ask for, and greatly appreciate, your feedback.

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Peter Sondergaard
Former Executive Vice President, Research & Advisory
25 years at Gartner
29 years IT Industry

Peter Sondergaard was an executive vice president and member of Gartner’s operating committee. He led the company’s Research & Advisory organization until August 2018.


Thoughts on Digital Economy: Big Data, Skills and Education


  1. Robert says:

    It is not clear your base assumption is valid. I direct you to The STEM Crisis Is a Myth
    http://spectrum.ieee.org/at-work/education/the-stem-crisis-is-a-myth
    for a counter argument. When organizations treat people as replaceable parts (only buy/hire what exactly fits and throw away when broken/”particular skill not needed”) the interest in working in that field will diminish. Organizations still want loyalty from their employees but organizations think pay checks are all it takes to earn it. Organizations frequently complain that they can’t find people with exactly the right skills for the job but the jobs they are trying to fill are not cookie cutter in what skills are needed. Organization complain about the how people right out of college are not productive. College is for getting an education; it is not a trade school. In summary, organizations are using the factory worker model on knowledge workers.



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