Data analysis is rated as one of the most sort-after and lucrative skills to have and represents a great career opportunity for anyone with the right aptitude.
“The advent of the big data era has resulted in data analytics becoming integrated into almost every application across all sectors and areas of business,” says Sam Paddock, CEO and co-founder of Cape Town online education company GetSmarter. “So, it’s not surprising that data analysis is considered to be the most important skill for any professional to learn.”
According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). 59% of organisations plan to increase the number of positions requiring data analysis skills in the next five years.
In its 2016 Jobs of the Future: Data Analysis Skills report SHRM says 78% of organisations surveyed had experienced difficulties recruiting for data analysis positions during the previous 12 months.
Online short courses can equip individuals with data analysis skills and can also assist existing data analysts to stay ahead of the curve as they follow the path of lifelong learning, says Paddock. “They can walk away from the course with a sought-after skill set and certificate in data analysis, backed by a top university.”
The role of a data analyst can be defined as exploring ways in which data can be used to answer business questions and solve problems. It requires a logical mind paired with the ability to communicate effectively and concisely with team members who lack an understanding of data, says Paddock. He says a career as a data analyst will suit individuals that are analytical, have strong mathematical skills, are highly organised and are curious and inquisitive.
“They are the human factor in translating numbers into easy-to-understand outcomes and suggestions,” says Paddock.
“Data analysts require both business and technical skills and must have a good attention to detail”, says Norah Wulff, data architect and head tutor for the University of Cape Town’s data analysis online short course.
“It’s important that data analysts have a good understanding of the goals of the business, as well as what data the business has at its disposal,” she says.
At the core of data analysis is the ability to interpret numbers and data, organise datasets in programmes like Excel, perform statistical analysis and confidently navigate databases.
Data analysts also need to be able to ask the right questions about the data they are interpreting and present their findings in a way that allows other team members to absorb it and implement business solutions based on the results, says Wulff.
“Besides being good with numbers, they need to be a problem solver, out-of-the-box thinker and a strong communicator.”
She says an invaluable data analyst is able to examine small details leading to bigger solutions and use the results of their findings to hypothesise about future trends and outcomes.
They need to be competent at sourcing, manipulating, managing, and interpreting high volumes of data from a variety of business areas, including numbers, text and images.
Statistical data analysis and data mining are ranked globally as the second most in-demand skills right now, according to UK based Prospects, which provides graduates with career guidance.
Paddock goes on to say that the demand for competent data analysts is reflected in the high salaries on offer for those in senior positions.
To increase their earning potential, data analysts can also consider specialising in a niche area of analysis or focusing their attention on managerial positions that involve increased leadership responsibilities.
Data analytics enables companies to make more informed business decisions by understanding customer behaviours and purchases, managing productivity and mastering organisational change.
It also helps them to accurately measure performance quality and predict business trends to stay competitive by responding quickly to changing customer demands and environmental conditions, says Paddock.
“So, there will be an increasing need for competent data analysts to help businesses to do achieve these outcomes,” he says.
A report from BlueVenn, a specialist in customer analytics through the use of technology, shows the biggest marketing skills gap to be data analytics. From speaking to over 200 marketers, it found that understanding customer data is considered far more vital than social media and web development. Its research findings led BlueVenn to rate data analysis as the most important skill an individual could learn in the next two years.
Analysing large volumes of unstructured data is going to increasingly form part of most individuals’ working life, whether they are involved in finance, consulting, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, government, healthcare, education, marketing, technology or any other type of job.
“Top executives of the future will need to be prepared to lead organisations in which many employees are constantly having to analyse large volumes of data,” concludes Paddock.
By Sam Paddock, CEO and co-founder of GetSmarter