Meeting SA's surge in demand for analytics skills

Johannesburg, 29 Jan 2016
Read time 3min 20sec

Enterprises and departments of higher education have an important role to play in addressing the urgent need for high end analytics skills in South Africa, says SAS Institute.

Murray de Villiers, GM: Africa, Middle East Regional Academic Programme at SAS, says it is estimated that South Africa will have a 70%-80% business analytics skills shortfall by 2018. With only 300 to 400 advanced analytics master's graduates emerging into the market annually, the country can expect a shortfall of more than 1 000 graduates with advanced analytics skills in just three years.

De Villiers works closely with local universities such as the North West University, which leads in the field of SAS training and advanced analytics. With over R3 million in support from SAS, the Centre for Business Mathematics and Informatics at NWU offers a master's programme in Advanced Business Analytics and opened the first of its kind SAS Advanced Analytics Laboratory on campus in 2013. Not only are the master's students gaining in-depth theoretical knowledge, they also spend months collaborating with enterprises on advanced analytics projects. This successful programme is soon to be replicated by the Kenya School of Monetary Studies, where East Africa's bankers are trained.

De Villiers notes that NWU typically has twice as many enterprises wanting to partner with the university on analytics projects as it can accommodate. In addition, the university's advanced analytics master's students all receive numerous job offers before they graduate, thanks to their proven work experience and SAS skills. "This is an indication that there is a huge need in business for people with the appropriate analytics knowledge and experience," he says.

Demand for high-end advanced analytics skills is growing fast, as enterprises seek to optimise big data and drive competitiveness. "We see it all the time - customers are seeking to optimise their advanced analytics investments, but they cannot find graduates with both the theoretical knowledge and the practical experience to effectively apply analytics to support business." The shortfall can be attributed in part to low enrolment numbers in statistics and analytics courses, and to tertiary institutions taking a theoretical, academic approach to education, rather than a practical approach designed to meet enterprise needs.

Building a high level skills base in South Africa requires action from a number of stakeholders, De Villiers says. "Universities should focus more on advanced analytics and the practical application of analytics in business. While many are moving to do so, changing curricula is a slow process and requires buy-in from departments of higher education.

"Institutions such as the National Research Foundation might focus more on the analytics requirements of enterprises in their work too. And enterprises can also support initiatives to develop these skills by collaborating with academia on programmes that align with business needs, and by offering bursaries for appropriate candidates from an undergraduate level, all the way through to master's level." Individuals seeking to make themselves more valuable to employers should also consider enrolling for advanced analytics training and SAS certification courses, he adds.

SAS collaborates with a number of South African universities that are now seeking to develop new business analytics programmes, says De Villiers. Among others, SAS is working with the University of the Western Cape on analytics programmes from undergraduate through to honour's level. SAS is also collaborating with the University of KwaZulu-Natal to integrate more data science and advanced business analytics thinking to enrich analytics courses.

Read more about the transformative role of analytics in education here.

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