What does the Data/Big Data Practitioner need to know and be able to do?

Cover of the Profile of the Data PractitionerIt is no longer news that the use of data-based decision making has reached a critical mass in every industry sector. There were 700,000 online job postings nationally for data workers in 2014 (Burning Glass, 2016). By 2018 the US will face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 workers who analyze data and up to 1.5 million who know how to use the analysis to make good decisions (McKinsey, 2011). 

Too few community colleges and CTE programs are preparing students to meet this growing demand for data workers, forcing employers to recruit data scientists from four year colleges and universities in order to meet their need for data analysis. This signals a great opportunity for the career and technical education community to integrate data literacy across all programs of study and to develop programs that prepare individuals to succeed as members of data teams. 

What do workers on data teams need to know and be able to do?

Drawing upon methods that have been used successfully to describe and define emerging occupations across a range of technical professions, EDC’s Oceans of Data Institute (ODI) worked with an expert panel of data specialists to define the work of the Data Practitioner (i.e. a middle skilled data worker). This definition describes the crosscutting skills needed by data workers in a variety of fields:

The Data Practitioner, in service of an organization and/or stakeholders, supports the data life cycle by collecting, transforming, and analyzing data, and communicating results in order to inform and guide decision-making.

The profile created from this definition identifies and organizes the work activities of the Data Practitioner into 6 major work responsibilities (“Duties”) and 72 specific work functions (“Tasks”).  It also lists the skills, knowledge, dispositions and tools needed to perform that work successfully.

The profile of the Data Practitioner can be used by CTE program developers and educators as a tool to:

  • Provoke a deep dialog with employers. That dialog can address: the data/big data knowledge and skill expectations for current and future workers, the gaps that employers perceive in existing training programs, and the anticipated number and type of data-related job openings anticipated in the near future
  • Analyze the degree to which current curricula are aligned with industry’s expectations for worker performance of data/big data tasks
  • Analyze curricula to determine where, when and to what level data tasks need to be covered in various courses and programs and to make decisions about skill and knowledge progressions in programs and courses of study
  • Help students become comfortable using technical language of the field to communicate their data/big data skills and knowledge to employers, build their portfolios, craft their resumes, and prepare for job interviews

The Profile of the Data Practitioner is part of a suite of tools/resources developed by EDC to help educators build and/or revise programs and integrate data/big data skills into curricula. For more information, contact oceansofdata@edc.org about the profile and jmsmith@edc.org about the suite of tools.


This blog is posted on the ACTE Industry Connect blog.

This work was funded through the National Science Foundation (NSF) Advanced Technological Education program (grant # 1501927). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in these materials are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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