A persistent skills gap plagues employers in all major industries, spurring the creation of SAS Analytics U, a program for developing the next generation of analytical talent. But we know the skills gap can mean different things to different people. This series features interviews by SAS's Trent Smith with those who employ, possess, and educate analytics talent.
Maryanne Schretzman is the executive director of the New York City Center for Innovation through Data Intelligence (CIDI). A unit of the mayor’s office, CIDI is the analytics research arm of the city’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The center’s goals are to improve coordination and quality of HHS services, inform citywide policy, analyze cross-agency policy issues and conduct independent research. CIDI partners with other agencies and organizations to tackle questions that can only be answered through data and analytics.
Schretzman has spent her entire career helping those in need. She has served as family services coordinator for the City of New York, and in leadership positions at the Department of Homeless Services and Administration for Children's Services. Prior to joining city government, she was an adjunct professor at Hunter College of Social Work and held a variety of leadership positions at the non-profit organization Women In Need, Inc. Schretzman holds a B.A. from the University of Montana, a Master of Social Work from Hunter College, and a Doctorate in Social Welfare from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
Trent Smith:CIDI is a member of University of Pennsylvania’s Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy Network, and you have spent your entire career helping vulnerable populations. Do you find the humanitarian part of your mission appeals to analytics talent?
Maryanne Schetzman: I think there are certain individuals who are drawn to places like CIDI because they want to use their analytics talents to help people. At CIDI, we have found that this type of mission appeals to individuals in more traditional fields of analytics work, such as statistics, engineering, and economics, as well as individuals who have a background in more human-service oriented work, such as social work, public health, and psychology. The key is to meld these two ways of thinking together to enhance staff’s skills and advance our mission. CIDI encourages the integration of the best techniques and theories from art, science, and social work to support NYC’s health and human service agencies and our staff’s skillset and knowledge reflect that.
Trent Smith: Government agencies often have a tougher time recruiting analytics talent. What is your “sales pitch” to data experts?
Maryanne Schetzman: CIDI is unique because it works very closely with many NYC agencies and therefore, is able to access and analyze a variety of data that can really be used to inform policy. It is really rewarding to be at a center where findings are actually utilized by top officials to shape services. Using data to better deliver services should not be something that is limited to the private sector. I think places like CIDI and other government agencies are trying to bring equity to the analytics world by using the same technology to understand patterns of service delivery and utilization in human services, which are often used by vulnerable children and families. People value that mission.
Trent Smith: What should agencies do to attract, retain or foster more analytics talent?
Maryanne Schetzman: I think agencies need to broaden their searches to a variety of fields. Lots of programs include basic statistics and coding and individuals who are interested in this type of work now have access to lots of resources to bolster those basic skills. Including time and a budget for continued training at all skill levels is also really important to foster talent and give staff opportunities that they would not have on their own.
Trent Smith: How do you keep them challenged and engaged?
Maryanne Schetzman: Because we work on a variety of projects at CIDI, we are able to try to match staff with projects that they are interested in. Our projects range from work on outcomes of youth in foster care to examining the impact of subsidized housing on education, so our staff are constantly learning about systems and data that are new to them. To contextualize this work in the larger human service systems, we also work closely with the agencies and organizations that are running them so we better understand how our work impacts their clients. For every project we do, we convene workgroups with agency staff to help guide the analyses and interpret the results. We also try to get out into the field on site visits whenever we can.
Trent Smith: What role do you think analytics companies should play in helping to close the gap?
Maryanne Schetzman: It’s great when analytics companies are able to bring together experts to work through projects and ideas from a variety of viewpoints. Events like hackathons, trainings, and other analytics gatherings allow people to share innovative ideas and learn from one another in ways that further their own skills and encourage collaboration among sectors and disciplines.
Trent Smith: What advice would you give students or adult learners interested in pursuing an analytics career?
Maryanne Schetzman: There’s a lot of resources out there now and many of them are free or low-cost. If you don’t have the analytics skills currently, it’s never too late to learn. I am constantly looking for new classes and workshops to keep up with the changing theory and tools of the analytics world. It’s a great way to get connected with people who are doing this work already too – both professors and other students. It’s also important to learn about the context in which the work is being conducted. Organizations use data in many, many ways and learning about the ways in which data can be collected and how it’s being used in different places will help you decide which places and fields you are most excited about when starting your career.
Trent Smith: One of your research projects with a supportive housing provider showed how analytics leads to insights that can change, even save, lives. What’s the coolest or most impactful thing you’ve done or seen done, using analytics?
Maryanne Schetzman: CIDI recently completed a large-scale study of adolescents exiting the foster care and justice systems and tracked their outcomes over the six years after they left. The scale of the study (the sample was around 28,000 adolescents) and the duration of the study (six years of follow-up) would not have been feasible without harnessing the power of administrative data analytics. Now, agencies are able to see the trajectories of their clients in a much more comprehensive way than ever before and use the findings of these data to enhance their programming to target individuals most at risk for poor adult outcomes. The report is available here.
Check out these previous posts on the Analytics Skills Gap
- Edgar Enciso and Emmett Cox of BBVA Compass
- Kimberly Holmes, Senior Vice President, Strategic Analytics at XL Group
- Steve Doig, investigative reporter and educator at Arizona State University
- Jeremy TerBush, vice president of global analytics for Wyndham Exchange & Rentals
- MaryAnne DePesquo, a health analytics manager at BlueCross BlueShield of Arizona
- Mark Malchiodi, a SAS programmer for a large insurance carrier
- Tao Hong, lead of the Energy Analytics Research Laboratory within the Energy Production Infrastructure Center at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte
- Allison Jones-Farmer, a professor at Miami University of Ohio
- John Taylor, data analyst for the Inland Fisheries Division of Texas Parks and Wildlife