Filling the data scientist gap

York University’s Schulich School of Business addresses the lack of deep analytical skills with its MBA program

As enterprises begin to recognize the value of the vast volumes of data they collect, the demand for people who can unlock that value is rising sharply. In fact, the McKinsey Global Institute predicts that by 2018, there will be a shortage of as many as 190,000 data scientists in the US alone. McKinsey also predicts that there will be 1.5 million managers and analysts who can effectively use big data to make business decisions.

Students tell us [the program] is challenging, rigorous, and really expands their boundaries. They’re surprised at their capacity.

Murat Kristal
Program Director, Master of Business Analytics

York University’s Schulich School of Business in Toronto is looking to help close the data scientist gap, while offering its students premium career opportunities filling the big data needs of enterprises. In 2012, Schulich launched its post-graduate Master of Business Analytics program, with an opening cohort of four students.

After reading about the program in a Toronto newspaper, Pat Finerty, SAS Canada Vice President of Alliances and Business Development, approached the program’s director, Murat Kristal, to see how SAS could get involved.

“If SAS didn’t reach out to me, I was going to reach out to SAS,” Kristal says. Not only a long-time user of SAS products, he was impressed by the company’s strong academic and research and development programs. “For me, it was a very natural collaboration.”

SAS contributes software licenses and guidance on how to use its analytics tools. Other corporations are contributing to the program as well. Seventeen firms, from financial institutions to software companies to loyalty programs to consulting companies, sit on the program’s advisory board, with the goal of matching the training curriculum to industry needs.

That alignment shines in the students’ summer work term. While the students spend two semesters learning analytics, statistics and business skills, it’s the crucible of solving real-world problems in real-world industries that crystallizes that learning. “Our students are learning a lot in the work placements, including soft business skills,” Kristal says.

And the businesses benefit, too. One student working with a financial institution laid out a road map for a risk and fraud analytics program; he’s now becoming a director at the bank. Another is working with a beverage company to determine why its forecasts are out by as much as 50 percent in some regions.

SAS has also been among the beneficiaries. A Schulich placement student ran a text analysis that discovered one of the most important services SAS offers is integration with Microsoft Office. Kristal, a 14-year SAS user, had never heard of the capability, and neither had many users out in the field.

“Our students get really actionable results,” Kristal says.

The 2014 class has 23 students, from a variety of backgrounds, including commerce, engineering, mathematics, physics and actuarial sciences. What they have in common is that they are all “quantitatively gifted.”

They’re also survivors. “Students tell us it’s challenging, rigorous, and really expands their boundaries,” Kristal says. “They’re surprised at their capacity.”

Kristal says he can’t overstate the importance of the involvement of SAS and its industry partners on the program’s advisory board. “SAS is bringing huge value to this program,” he says. “This collaboration is really important. It’s vital.”

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  • Enrollment has grown from four to 23.
  • All train on real-world business problems at real-world companies.
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