The quickly evolving world of business analytics has challenged universities around the country to find ways to best prepare students to enter the field. Incorporating into the curriculum relevant skills, such as training on the software they will use in their jobs, best prepares students to face a work environment when they graduate. In addition, technology and software tools should be used to give students hands-on experience and understanding of the business contexts in which these tools are applied. Students’ motivation and retention of learning a particular tool increases when provided the opportunity to deal with real problems, real data, and a real industry client.
Professors have found great success when pairing students with an organization and using actual data to improve the organization’s digital presence during the course of the semester. While the students interact with the organization, they have an opportunity to use both open source and proprietary solutions such as R, Hadoop, MapReduce, Python, MySQL, SAS, SPSS, Tableau, and Excel VBA.
The open-source software framework called R, or “the software of the future,” is used by newer and smaller agencies. Universities offer courses that use R software because, even though the program is free to use, it can be very difficult to learn. Having the guidance and expertise of a professor who is familiar with the software enables students to gain useful experience in a classroom setting.
Hadoop is another open-source software framework that makes it possible for organizations to quickly and efficiently gain insight from large quantities of data. No data set is too big for Hadoop, which means that businesses can find new value in information that was once considered useless because it could not be processed efficiently.
The proprietary software called the Statistical Analysis System, or SAS, has been used by large, well-established companies for decades. By implementing SAS into the curriculum, universities are able to equip their students with a working knowledge of a tool they will use frequently in their careers.
During their hands-on experience, students are also able to apply their time to earn a formal certification in Google AdWords, a professional accreditation that Google offers to individuals who demonstrate proficiency in basic and advanced aspects of AdWords.
“Certification is not a common skill for a college graduate to obtain,” said Julie Ferrara, Assistant Department Head of the Business Analytics and Statistics Department within the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. “By earning these certifications, students are setting themselves apart from their peers once they begin searching for jobs.”
Gaining first-hand experience with the software used every day by the organizations they will be working for is not the only benefit students will see from working alongside a real business. By witnessing how a business professional interacts with other professionals, students are exposed to excellent examples of what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to making connections that last in the workplace. Understanding the software is only part of the equation of a successful career in business analytics. Creating a professional network is another integral piece in the puzzle that is analytics and statistics.
Another important lesson that real-world experience will teach students is how to contribute to the effort in a meaningful way. Whether it’s using proprietary or open-source software or reporting their findings, students can learn a great deal by seeing how a professional operates on a regular basis. Being able to play a substantial role in an organization right after graduation will give students an advantage over those who have not had that experience.
The national average for job placement upon graduation for business analytics programs currently stands at 88 percent. However, schools with more in-depth programs (such as the Business Analytics and Statistics Department at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, which boasts 100 percent job placement), have reached remarkable milestones by focusing on measurable, real-world results along with using the technology and software that is being implemented in the business world.
Demand for eligible applicants is high in the business analytics field. Data science has been thrust into the spotlight, and the hiring market for analytics professionals and data scientists has gone into overdrive. Despite offering increased salaries, companies are still struggling to hire qualified candidates. Students with real-world experience and a working knowledge of software and technology used in today’s workplace, along with accreditations such as the Google Adwords certification, have a greater chance of standing out from the crowd and landing a job after graduation.
Dr. Charles Noon is a professor in the Department of Statistics, Operations, and Management Science at the University of Tennessee. He teaches in the Physician’s EMBA program, the full-time MBA program, the Ph.D. program, and in a number of executive education programs. His teaching interests include operational improvement, business modeling, simulation, and decision analysis and support. He is the recipient of numerous teaching awards and serves as a teaching mentor for junior faculty. His research concerns computer-based models for operational improvement and his published works have appeared in a diverse range of publications.
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