More organizations in more industries than ever before are now leveraging big data in order to achieve company goals. That also means more organizations are in need of STEM workers who understand how to interpret and use big data. Unfortunately, the high demand for STEM talent is leading to a growing skills gap between what employers need and what talent on the market can offer. Also contributing to this gap is a disconnect between what STEM workers learn in school and the skills/knowledge organizations need in order to effectively leverage big data.

As big data and its myriad applications continue to grow in relevance, it’s up to businesses to keep their STEM talent properly trained so they can meet the demands of the future.

More than five zettabytes (one zettabyte equals one sextillion bytes) of data exist today, with more than 44 zettabytes expected to exist by 2020, according to “Big Data, Big Needs,” a white paper from the University of Phoenix and STEMconnector. If the public and private sectors don’t learn to cooperate more effectively, the global talent pool will fall far short of what organizations need in the near future.

Everybody Needs Somebody Sometime

Higher education can keep cranking out STEM graduates and companies can keep hiring them, but unless institutions of higher learning and the corporate world learn to work together, there will continue to be a disconnect between the skills students learn and the skills employers require.

“There is a lack of collaboration between higher education and industry to ensure the skills being taught align with the skills needs of employers,” says Ruth Veloria, executive dean of the University of Phoenix School of Business. “Higher education, both at the programmatic and faculty level, must stay as current and agile as possible on the competencies needed to keep pace with the changes in technology and growth of the availability of data.”

To maintain that agility, public and private entities need to work together to build not only programs that teach new students the skills they need to dive straight into the business world, but also continuing education programs that keep the existing workforce abreast of changes in the field.

Computer“Collaborating with higher education to meet the needs of the STEM workforce can be as simple as providing mentorship programs or career-planning workshops,” Veloria says. “The collaboration may also develop into strategic partnerships comprising corporate training and customized curriculum designed specifically for the business need.”

The Speed of Bureaucracy

While universities and industries certainly have some distance to go, the government is another major factor that stands in the way of progress.

“Companies will need to evolve the management and growth of talent by creating opportunities for employees to upskill and acquire the competencies they need to keep pace with changes in the tech landscape,” Veloria says.

Unfortunately, the federal government is not always quick to support such learning opportunities. For example, University of Phoenix offers a business analytics certificate program that aims to help students understand the utility of data, the value of data-based decision-making, and the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit necessary to succeed in the data space. Despite the usefulness of this program for industry, the certificate is not yet eligible for federal financial aid.

The economy would benefit tremendously from programs that maintain a globally competitive U.S. workforce, but the government still regularly fails to provide resources to non-degree seeking students. These students could be completing certificate programs that will prove immensely valuable to U.S. industry in the long run, but without funding, they can’t. As a result, the STEM talent pool in the U.S. stays stagnant.

Continuing education students already in the workforce can often get certificate fees covered by their employers, but less experienced STEM students trying to get a leg up before entering the workforce find themselves at a disadvantage. Those students must wait to enter the workforce before receiving the additional training they require. This slows progress and perpetuates the STEM skills gap.

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