There is probably little surprise to those of us in the supply chain management and B2B network community as to what is the most in-demand job in our technology focused community. This weekend, the Wall Street Journal validated the most in-demand job, that being the data scientist.

In its article, Big Data’s High-Priests of Algorithms (paid subscription or free metered view), the WSJ reports “Retailers, banks, heavy-equipment makers and matchmakers all want specialists to extract and interpret the explosion of data from Internet clicks, machines and smartphones, setting off a scramble to find and train them.” Once more, what companies seek is more than just data analysis and interpretation skills but knowledge of customers, markets and business processes. 

And, in the classic high demand, short supply, scenario, employers need to be ready to attract these skills with competitive compensation. “While a six-figure starting salary might be common for someone coming straight out of a doctoral program, data scientists with just two years’ experience can earn between $200,000 and $300,000 a year, according to recruiters.

Not that long ago, when data scientists aspired to join academia or a Wall Street firm now have much broader opportunities and roles for career selection. Once more, employers will have to do their homework in personal communications and outreach in attracting such people and must be prepared to act quickly with an offer when they locate such talent.

There is a twofold message for both aspiring students who have hopefully chosen supply chain management as their career choice and those already working among supply chain teams.

For the professional already within supply chain management, augmenting one’s skills with formal certificate or degree programs in data science may well be a good investment.  Having several years of broad supply chain management experience and understanding and augmenting with data science skills provides a rather attractive background.

For aspiring students, the message is clearly to balance your studies and awareness of broad supply chain and business management with data analysis and interpretation skills. Probably one of the best investments in intern assignments would be on a big-data analysis or analytics projects. Besides a solid background in data-analysis, you also need good communications skills with the proven ability to collaborate with various functional and business teams on projects and initiatives. The messages for colleges and universities who currently specialize in supply chain management is to broaden the curriculum to include deeper data analysis training and skills development.

Some organizations may be prohibited in taking on highly specialized and expensive data analysis talent on a full-time basis.  That will open up broader business development opportunities among those professional services firms that cater to specialized supply chain management data analysis services and support programs.

The other obvious takeaway message is ongoing retention of such talent.  Challenging assignments, broadened opportunities to learn other aspects of the business and ongoing training support will all be important tenets of a retention strategy.

As this author reviews the current and upcoming wave of advanced information technology, I have no doubt that such technology will enable further breakthroughs in supply chain capabilities. However, organizations that are not actively investing in identifying talent needs and nurturing the skills needed to harness such technology will not be able to take advantage of such capabilities.

Bob Ferrari