Recently the Chief Data & Analytics Officer (CDAO) Apex East gathered more than 40 enterprise data leaders from businesses like Unilever and Walmart. Since data analytics is one of the fastest-growing fields today, we were excited to attend and learn more about how leading enterprises are creating data-driven cultures and implementing emerging technologies like AI and machine learning (ML).

While the event covered important technical topics ranging from data quality to data lakehouses, the biggest challenge facing data leaders wasn’t on the formal agenda. Almost everyone we spoke with echoed the same theme: recruiting, training and retaining data talent is becoming increasingly difficult in today’s hot labor market.

We spoke with multiple data leaders about how they are getting creative and innovating to solve their talent challenges.

Four Things we Learned From Data Leaders

1. Companies Need Data Talent at All Levels

You can’t grow senior data talent without growing entry-level data talent. As business becomes more data-driven, leaders are increasingly pressured to fill out their data teams faster–but most are coming up short. The reason? Everyone is fishing in the same pond, relying on staffing agencies and only considering candidates with four-year degrees.

Today’s data leaders must expand beyond traditional methods if they want to recruit and cultivate diverse talent. One route is upskilling or reskilling existing employees or non-traditional candidates. Data analysts, for example, could learn data science techniques. Even non-technical employees could step into data roles with the right training and a company’s willingness to invest in their development.

Finding the right talent is vital to an organization’s success–it’s time to innovate beyond normal channels to not only find talent, but breed it. Reskilling is an important tactic to broaden your junior candidate pipeline.

2. Technology Is Evolving Too Fast to Keep Up–Even for Top Talent 

Technology helps us collect, organize and analyze data for business decision-making. Most technology is designed to make our jobs easier. But for many data leaders, the volume, variety and velocity of new solutions on the market make choosing the right tools, maintaining a modern tech stack and ensuring their team is equipped to use them real challenges.

At CDAO Apex East, we heard from data leaders interested in investing in emerging functions like ML ops and improving their teams’ skills in areas like data management. What holds them back from making the leap can be a conscious decision not to put too much pressure on workers.

This is especially a concern during The Great Resignation, as leaders make talent retention a top priority. They worry that mandating training or asking team members to learn new skills and take on new responsibilities will lead to burnout.

Fortunately, some leaders are finding creative ways to carve out time for teams to learn new skills. For example, we spoke with a few who had set aside dedicated hours during the work week for learning, but remained flexible on how that time is used. An employee might use it to take a course, or simply to think critically about how they might better maximize their time.

To motivate team members to learn continuously, leaders must frame upskilling as an investment they are making in employees’ careers. This investment will pay dividends in the future, as talent who feel challenged and appreciated tend to stick around.

3. Employee Retention Is Now a KPI for Data & Analytics Leaders

More people than ever quit their jobs in March, and the data and analytics industry is no exception to The Great Resignation. As competition for talent grows fiercer, data leaders are doing whatever it takes to retain employees.

A successful employee retention strategy should be baked into all levels of talent engagement–from recruitment to career development plans. It’s not something to employ only when you’re worried that a top performer is about to quit.

Recruiting talent from non-traditional backgrounds, for example, can cultivate a sense of loyalty among employees who are grateful to the organization that gave them a chance. Similarly, employees who are offered continuous opportunities to learn new skills and try new roles are likely to be happier and more engaged in the long term.

Data leaders must support their team members’ career goals and outline clear paths of progression. Don’t worry that you’re investing in employees who will take those new skills elsewhere. On average, companies who have engaged General Assembly for reskilling have seen retention rates of 91 percent staying over two years and 81 percent staying more than three.

4. Data Work Is Happening Everywhere

In the past, talented data professionals were clustered in certain geographic areas like San Francisco and New York City. Thanks to the pandemic, talent is now spread across the U.S. and states like Texas and Colorado are rapidly growing as tech hubs. Companies who are not evolving to meet employees’ demands for flexible, remote work are falling further behind the curve when it comes to attracting and retaining the talent they need.

But allowing your team to work remotely isn’t enough. Even if employees aren’t located near HQ, most still want to engage in company culture and learning and development programs. Offering virtual courses and training can help bridge the career development gap between onsite and fully remote team members.

We’re looking forward to the CDAO Apex West later this year, but if you’re a data leader interested in talking talent, no need to wait. Get in touch.

Disclaimer: General Assembly referred to their Bootcamps and Short Courses as “Immersive” and “Part-time” courses respectfully and you may see that reference in posts prior to 2023.