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IBM certification program tackles shortage of data scientists

IBM reported it certified 140 new data scientists, the first to be certified under a program IBM developed with The Open Group to address the dearth of data scientists.

There's a shortage of data scientists, and IBM is doing something about it.

The shortage is not a secret. As data science has gone mainstream, and as the cloud, augmented and machine learning are becoming more critical to an organization's success, more and more companies are seeking to hire data scientists in order to build models to harness the vast amounts of data they now possess and ultimately glean insights from that data.

However, with demand on the rise, the number of qualified data scientists has not kept pace.

Little more than a year ago, there were more than 151,000 unfilled openings for data scientists at the time, according to the August 2018 LinkedIn Workforce Report.

In an attempt to address the shortage of data scientists, in January of 2019 IBM revealed that it was partnering with The Open Group, a consortium that aims to develop industry standards and has more than 600 members, to create a data scientist certification program.

On Thursday, IBM reported that 140 of its employees have now completed the certification process and are certified data scientists.

And though the first group to receive certification all came from IBM, the program is open to the public on The Open Group's website.

In addition, IBM said on Thursday that it is partnering with the University of Pennsylvania and the Linux Foundation to provide universities around the world with the tools to develop their own data science programs. The program is expected to be launched in early 2020.

"The demand side is critical in driving the need for this," said Martin Fleming, vice president and chief economist at IBM. "On the supply side we need to create more data scientists – there are people trained in mathematics and computer science, and we've recruited people across a variety of fields who are eager to move into the field of data science.

"The certification program comes about to help data scientists communicate their value and skill as they move through their career," he continued.

As data science has grown in recent years with analytics becoming a significant part most organizations with enough scale to invest resources in business intelligence, colleges and universities have created data science programs to address the shortage of data scientists.

Most, however, fall short of preparing true data scientists for the real world, according to Rick Sherman, founder and managing partner of Athena IT Solutions, based in Maynard, Mass.

Often, they're just reconstituted computer science, math and statistics programs with professors who were never data scientists, he said. The programs, therefore, don't provide the kind of practical experience data scientists need in order to not only interpret data but also tailor the models they build for their organizations so they will lead to effective data interpretation.

"You have to have domain expertise to be a real data scientist," said Sherman, referring to people who know not only the computer science and math they're taught in degree programs but also knowledge of the biotech industry, for example, or the energy industry. "The minds coming up with predictive models have domain expertise. Schools are producing data engineers."

The IBM program appears to be providing this missing piece as it attempts to address the shortage of data scientists, Sherman noted. According to IBM, the certification process includes peer-reviewed project work with certification ultimately awarded through experience-based work that’s reviewed by industry experts.

"I haven't seen a large company put something together like this," Sherman said. "They have lots of people with domain experience."

As the shortage of data scientists is reduced, benefits will undoubtedly accrue.

Organizations, according to Fleming, will be transformed. Meanwhile, innovation will occur not simply on a technological level but also in medical labs doing clinical research, for example, according to Sherman.

"Machine learning and modeling would up the game and move things along faster," Sherman said.

While IBM offers certification, it's not the only company offering training in data science. Certification, however, takes not only the training to a more official level, but also validates it.

"As the profession grows and matures, there are capabilities just being put into place," Fleming said. "Certification is one, but also how to work with the academic community to continue to grow, the salary structure – how to communicate the value the profession brings to business organizations. We're in the early stages of framing the profession."

And also in the early stages of trying to tackle the shortage of data scientists.

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