The Internet of Things is affecting almost every aspect of business—from people to devices to data and processes—and creating new opportunities for growth and competition. Many companies, including General Electric (GE), are already adopting the IoT as a centerpiece of their business strategy.
If organizations are truly going to make the most of the IoT, they will need a workforce with the proper skills. But finding those people is proving to be a huge challenge.
A recent report by the World Bank indicates that in the next 10 years there will be two million unfilled IT related jobs globally, and a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) indicates a lack of IoT skills and knowledge among employees and management as the biggest obstacle to using the IoT extensively.
To address these gaps, organizations are training staff and recruiting IoT talent, raising the potential for IoT talent wars. Others are hiring consultants and third-party experts, seeking to build knowledge and identify successful IoT business models.
“We will have more and more need for people who are a combination of data scientist and operation manager—people who have an understanding of how to use data, how to use analytics, and also an understanding of their own business lines,” says Marco Annunziata, GE’s chief economist.
Christopher Wasden, executive director of the Sorenson Center for Discovery and Innovation at the University of Utah who has implemented an IoT lab, also believes that preparing the workforce for the IoT starts in schools.
“We are now entering the sixth information technology paradigm with the IoT,” Wasden says. “It is critical that our students understand both the history of previous IT revolutions, as well as how the IoT is shaping up to be something radically different from in the past.”
The following skills will be essential to future graduates:
Engineering: Computer hardware engineers are the ones who truly design the ‘things’ at the heart of the IoT. Graduates with experience in computer-aided design (CAD), sensor technology, embedded software, and connectivity solutions such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth will be in incredibly high demand.
Data Analytics: A 2011 McKinsey report estimated the United States faces a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep data analytics skills each year. Devices connected to the Internet will generate a huge amount of structured, semi-structured, and unstructured data, creating a need for skilled engineers, architects, and analysts to gather and process that information.
“It is not so much about big data infrastructure,” says Elgar Fleish, the deputy dean at ETH Zurich. “It’s more about having data scientists that have a clue about computer science, statistics and business.”
Networking: Graduates with electrical and network engineering skills will be essential in a smart, connected world. Data will be transferred from smart, connected devices to multiple places, including to the manufacturer, so a reliable and secure line of traffic is vital.
Security: Skills in securely managing data and in cybersecurity analysis will be one of the most critical for graduates in the upcoming years. The demand for cybersecurity skills is expected to grow 13 percent each year until 2017.
“You should, and you must, train people to help cope [with new demands], but it is also important to leverage intelligent tools to automate security and assurance tasks to improve speed, accuracy, and efficiency,” says Chris Sullivan, VP of Advanced Solutions at Courion.
How can educators integrate new skills into the classroom?
- IoT projects and corporate sponsorships: One of the best ways for students to get hands-on experience is to merge industry-related challenges into school projects and curriculum. Students get a hands-on, real-world application and companies get access to creative minds to help with new problems they may be facing. Educators can integrate software and curriculum used in industry into current product design, sensory networking, data analytics, or other innovation courses to provide their students with a leg up in the competitive job market.
- On-campus labs: Innovation labs are another great idea. Entrepreneurial and innovation labs, such as the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute, and the Sorenson Center for Discovery and Innovation, provide students from all concentrations with access to 3-D printers, IoT software and projects, CAD technology and more to help foster their ideas and start-ups.
- Hack-a-thons & make-a-thons: Students compete against one another to solve challenges. Lots of colleges and universities have adopted hack-a-thon events such as Cornell University, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Purdue University, Yale University, University of Michigan, and MIT.
It is clear that the IoT will bring substantial benefits for businesses and provide a greater platform for innovation in developing and bringing products to market. With the proper training, the incoming workforce can master skills to support it and overcome the challenges of new IoT technologies.
Michelle Millier contributed to this article.