As the pandemic forced many employees to telework last year – which is becoming the new normal for many workers – cybersecurity remained in high demand. Protecting data, especially when clearance was an issue, remained a top priority. Given those facts, the cybersecurity talent shortfalls are unlikely to be addressed in 2021.

Yet, cybersecurity is just one aspect of the opportunities that the tech savvy can look to this year. According a recent report from ZD Net, those with skills such as quantum computing, connected technologies and financial tech (fintech) including blockchain will be in the most demand in the next five years. Additionally, skills in data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML) will also be sought after.

“It takes no magical crystal ball to predict that 2021 will offer greater demand for a data-savvy workforce,” Jim Purtilo, associate professor of computer science at the University of Maryland told ClearanceJobs.

“The pandemic economy challenges many businesses, but that makes analytics take on greater importance,” he added. “Your data are trying to speak to you. Do you know what it is trying to say about your supply chain, your customer trends, or your infrastructure’s vulnerabilities?”

Talent Search

This year will see government agencies and contractors casting a line in the same talent pool, and competing with large tech firms.

It was just last October that the Department of Defense (DoD) released its “Data Strategy,” which focused on accelerating the Department’s transition to a data-centric organization – one that would use data at speed and scale for operational advantage and increased efficiency.

As part of the strategy, data would be managed as a strategic resource – one that could build and maintain battlefield advantage, and provide the need to treat information systems on par with the same priorities given to weapon systems. According to the DoD, implementing this Data Strategy will require an automated orchestration of numerous data pipelines (e.g., discovery, ingestion, preparation, storage, processing, exposure / dissemination) in order to facilitate trusted and reproducible machine-to-machine data exchanges.

Given such a push from the DoD and other government agencies to utilize data as a resource, for those with the right skills it could be the time to make a move. 

“We continue to see a demand in data analytics, AI and machine learning within Booz Allen, across all industries and covering all U.S. security clearance levels,” said Jennifer O’Brien, candidate attraction and experience lead at Booz Allen.

“Our Federal government clients have made it clear America will lead the world in AI, and our mission is to help them do it – in 2021, that means taking AI out of the lab and operationalizing it in the real world,” O’Brien told ClearanceJobs. “Job opportunities in machine learning operations, cognitive automation, cyber AI, adversarial AI, and edge AI, as well as foundational jobs in advanced analytics and data science, are all needed to help the government use AI to accelerate mission success, scale return on investment, and create workforce readiness.”

Be In Demand

Candidates who can address the issues of today, have the “soft skills” such as analytical and problem-solving along with the ability conduct data analysis and programming will remain in high demand for the foreseeable future. However, as with other tech positions, getting the skills can be challenging – especially in the era of Covid-19 and the telework that comes with it.

“One way to enter the field is through employer training – at Booz Allen, we equip apprentice-level data science talent with new skills through our Data Science Tech Excellence program, which is designed to prepare participants to work in the data science field in a broad number of roles,” explained O’Brien.

The company is among those that now offer an eight-week course that features aptitude and skills-based assessments, virtual training, engagement with data science leaders and mentoring provided by data science practitioners. Booz Allen even hosts a capstone event that allows participants to apply their functional skills directly to their work, while providing tuition reimbursement and supports continuing education, tech development, and certifications to help employees develop their technical skills. It also rotates employees across industries and projects to diversify their experiences.

There is no better time to start than now, especially with so many virtual opportunities during this time and flexibility on external programs,” O’Brien told ClearanceJobs.

Accentuate Your Skills

For those already employed in such fields, this year could also be the one to further hone those skills and leverage further opportunities.

“Professionals with expertise in machine learning can tease out the signal from the noise, then tailor agile business processes that are more responsive to the market,” said Purtilo. “All of our operations are lean these days; smart practices may be the difference between a business operating on the margin and a business failure. Far-sighted CIOs know this and will hire accordingly.”

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at petersuciu@gmail.com.