Empty shelves

The retail analytical talent deficit

By Jarryd Hawley, SAS

We are in a golden age of big data and analytics in which technology enables retailers to be more lean, efficient and competitive than ever. There are companies with solutions that address everything from pricing optimization to modular/shelf space efficiencies. However, without a skilled pilot to operate it, even the most cutting-edge fighter jet is nothing more than a shiny piece of metal on a tarmac.

That is the situation in which retailers find themselves with technology and capabilities available that have far outpaced the workforce necessary to get the value out of them. This leaves retailers with few options; attempt to poach the existing retail analytics talent from competitors or vie for the limited talent coming out of many of emerging University Analytics programs. No matter what way you look at the current analytical talent landscape, there is a deficit between the number of individuals that retailers need to hire and those that are available.

Attracting and keeping data experts is the key to attracting and keeping customers

In January of this year, Glassdoor.com, a popular job information site said that Business Analyst was the 14th best job in the U.S. They also listed 21,337 job openings for this position alone, not to mention the closely related jobs of database administrator and data scientist at 9,790 and 3,449 respectively.

The gap between supply and demand is daunting and university programs that are training students to fill it are struggling to produce enough students. Two of the most established graduate analytics programs: University of Texas at Austin and North Carolina State University are both producing robust, well-trained talent but are only able to churn out a limited number of students.

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Between the two programs, they were only able to push out 137 students, creating highly sought after and expensive graduates for retailers to compete for. According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a Business Analyst is $74,638 but these program graduates can demand six-figure salaries straight out of school.

Schools are struggling to keep pace with demand

There are more and more schools creating graduate programs in analytics as demand grows from students interested in this booming field. Programs have sprung up in top-tier schools such as Louisiana State University, Northwestern University and University of Chicago Yet it is still not yet enough to meet the demand. Analytics companies such as SAS have even started offering their software to students and faculty for free.

These are available to both colleges and high schools to use in order to start grooming the next generation talent early. However, it may not be enough. According to Accenture, 44 percent of new US jobs for analytics experts will be created but those jobs will only meet 23 percent of the demand. This means that retailers need to be competitive in what they are able to offer prospective new hires. Big factors that make a difference in whether a retailer can land one of these students are compensation, opportunities for advancement and location.

Location is a huge differentiator in many cases. If a prospective new hire is looking to start their career in a large metropolitan area, retailers that are more geographically desirable have an advantage over those operating out of less densely populated areas. There are many factors that play into where an individual choose to work, but the need to align these with the desires of the interviewee are essential. Creating a broader pool of candidates and crafting a desirable environment are keys to success in trying to fill the gaps that could be prohibiting many retailers from reaching their full analytical potential.

Jarryd is an account executive in SAS’ retail practice. A retailer at heart, Jarryd focuses on the overlap of analytics and store operations. He completed his undergrad and graduate degrees at the University of Illinois – Urbana/Champaign. A native Australian, he now resides in Bentonville, Arkansas with his wife and young daughter.

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