Gis Skills Gap: Meeting Growing Demand With Better Training

The Widening GIS Skills Gap

Geographic information systems (GIS) have become an integral technology across many industries. As GIS continues to evolve and expand into new applications, demand for skilled GIS professionals grows every year. However, there is a major gap between the increasing need for GIS expertise and the availability of professionals with the right technical capabilities. This widening divide has created staffing challenges for employers and missed opportunities for workers and students looking to enter the field.

Current State of Demand for GIS Professionals

The breadth of GIS applications across sectors has accelerated the need for geospatial expertise. In the business world, GIS supports critical decisions in real estate, telecommunications, insurance, retail and countless other industries. Public sector organizations rely on GIS professionals to inform policy making, urban planning, emergency response and more. Meanwhile, advancements in geospatial technology have opened doors for GIS specialists in fields ranging from climate science to human rights.

As organizations recognize the competitive edge GIS provides, demand grows exponentially. Recent reports estimate the global geospatial analytics market will grow at an annual rate of 16.9% to reach $215 billion by 2028. Another analysis found job postings seeking GIS skills doubled from 2015 to 2019 in the United States alone.

Projected Growth and Talent Shortage

Rapid development of new geospatial data sources, analytics methods and mapping software shows no signs of slowing momentum for GIS solutions. Drones, satellites, smartphones and sensors embedded in infrastructure expand data collection capacity every year. Cloud computing now allows huge geospatial datasets to be efficiently processed. And web-based interactive maps bring location intelligence to end users across devices.

But specialized GIS professionals needed to implement these technologies are in short supply. Surveys consistently find skill gaps around geospatial software, programming, spatial analysis and data modeling that go unfilled. One report estimated the gap between workforce supply and demand results in nearly 200,000 unfilled geospatial positions every year in the U.S. alone. With demand projected to grow over 17% annually for the near future, recruiting GIS talent looms as an ongoing challenge.

Bridging the Divide

While growing reliance on GIS and innovation in geospatial technology are positive developments overall, realizing the full potential will require training more people for careers in the field. Individual incentives clearly exist, with competitive salaries and abundant job openings in GIS across nearly every domain. Collective benefits are also substantial – GIS expertise applied to pressing issues like environmental change, public health threats and social inequalities can pay significant dividends.

Slowly but surely, steps are being taken to expand pathways into the geospatial workforce. Here are promising approaches to developing the GIS professionals needed for the future.

Improving Access to GIS Education

Opportunity starts with awareness. Many students move through secondary and even post-secondary school without exposure to GIS or the wide range of vocational avenues it opens up. Introductory courses, hands-on training and career guidance must all reach wider audiences – with recruitment efforts rightly targeting underrepresented groups. Industry leaders can visit classrooms, host facility tours for students, or sponsor workshops at schools in underprivileged areas to spread the word.

Higher learning institutions also need incentive and assistance to strengthen formal GIS education. Additional faculty, software access and computing resources require investment – costs that are hard to bear for budget-strapped colleges and universities. But several initiatives now help ease the lift, including discounted licensing from GIS developers and training programs that allow professors to embed spatial technology into diverse social sciences curriculums.

Developing Better Training Programs

Classroom teaching forms a crucial foundation, but applied technical skills warrant further development through hands-on training programs. Here too, investments show encouraging returns. Enterprise partnerships with universities create graduate talent pools tailored to current geospatial software and techniques used in-house. Coding bootcamps focused explicitly on GIS scripting languages help shape project-ready developers and data scientists. Guided. And formal apprenticeship or internships remain go-to strategies for converting entry-level hires into strategic contributors through experiential learning.

Employers driving growth in geospatial services must also recognize investments in training talent as investments in their own capabilities. Leading companies build internal programs focused both on building baseline skills across non-technical units and nurturing aptitude among specialists. Tactics range from short courses or seminars to rotational assignments on cross-functional analytics teams applying geospatial tools to business challenges.

Recruiting a Diverse Workforce

All talent development initiatives should consciously aim to establish education-to-employment pathways for learners across gender, ethnic and socioeconomic divides. The geospatial field suffers from uniformity – with women making up just 29% of the workforce and African Americans representing under 5%. Outreach spotlighting career opportunities, training subsidies and inclusive internship policies can help turn the tide. Industry associations also push progressive practices, certifying organizations as diversity leaders.

Supporting GIS skills development across wider demographics promises to pay compounding returns. Varied perspectives enhance user experience design, community partnership programs see higher engagement when organizers reflect resident populations, and employees from disadvantaged backgrounds often mentor up-and-coming students from similar circumstances – thus propagating progress.

Key Technical Skills to Cultivate

A multidimensional skillset underpins successful GIS careers encompassing technical expertise, problem solving ability and conceptual insights unique to spatial analytics. Several key capabilities rise above others as consistent skills gaps and as priorities for professional development.

Spatial Analysis

Core disciplines like statistics take on geographic context with GIS, requiring competency in spatial analysis methods. Key skills in this domain include building data models that incorporate location, distance and topology connectors between features. GIS analysts need fluency across quantitative techniques like hot spot mapping to identify clustering patterns and buffer analysis for evaluating proximities. Mastering spatial statistics further allows for effective interpretation even when analyzing random geographic phenomena.

As geospatial data volumes expand exponentially, improving computational analysis skills is equally crucial. Cloud infrastructure now streamlines processing massive datasets, while machine learning automation assists modeling complex spatial relationships – two emerging areas with steep growth curves ahead.

Geospatial Data Management

The axiom “garbage in, garbage out” underscores the importance of data integrity practices for GIS. Slow, faulty analysis is often rooted in poorly structured or maintained source data. Key capabilities in data prep, QA/QC, metadata tagging and securitization lay a foundation for success.

Advances also bring new technical demands, as vast inflows of geospatial data require management at scale. Cloud data lakes have become one important architecture for storage and governance. Containerization, meanwhile, provides reproducibility and sharing of analytical environments across teams and tools. DataOps models applying DevOps efficiency to ETL pipelines also gain adherents as data growth continues.

Cartography and Visualization

At its core, GIS produces maps. And visualized location intelligence remains the most powerful channel for conveying analytic insights. From webapps to augmented reality, platforms for developing dynamic visual content multiply relentlessly. Yet best practices in cartographic design endure, demanding skills in simplifying the complex and highlighting meaningful patterns.

Coding retains advantages for customizing views, calculating scale dependencies and enabling interactivity. Leading web mapping libraries like Leaflet or D3.js are broadly adopted, while Python toolkits including Geopandas, Matplotlib and Descartes handle visualization duties for data scientists. Expanding visualization skillsets through one or more such programming environments pays dividends for most geospatial specialists.

Programming for GIS

Scripting allows automation of workflows from analysis to output. Spatial logic applied through any leading programming language – JavaScript, Python, R, SQL – makes repetitive GIS tasks more efficient at enterprise scale. Particularly as cloud platforms and containerization reshape data architectures, fluency in these languages helps optimize processing.

Demand is notably high for GIS developers across front end, backend and full stack roles. Web interfaces for both internal and public-facing apps have become pivotal. Experience with mapping APIs from tools like ArcGIS, Google and Mapbox drive desirability, as does administering geospatial components in cloud services environments like AWS or Azure.

Building Experience Through Projects

Technical expertise only develops meaningfully through practical application. For students and career transitioners, completing mapping projects should be a priority even before entering a full-time GIS role. The good news is geospatial tools now available means abundant possibilities exist to gain hands-on experience.

Volunteer GIS Services

Nonprofits often lack resources for implementing GIS capabilities that could dramatically enhance operations and planning. At the same time, the missions and community-focused data common in nonprofit programs provide ideal training grounds. Many NGOs offer structured remote volunteering or service learning programs applying geospatial analysis to current strategic priorities. Investing some volunteer hours pays back through new skills, valuable app samples for portfolios, and networking contacts.

Spatial Analyses for Local Issues

Public sector open data visualized and analyzed with geospatial tools frequently leads to citizen-led innovations. Transport accessibility mapping, environmental justice pattern analysis, public space utilization studies – all can leverage freely available municipal data. Choose issues that resonate personally and build context through relevant reading. Then apply GIS techniques to extract and communicate insights.

Beyond personal growth, such projects develop vital civic tech capabilities for improving communities. They also build local profile for aspiring GIS professionals through demonstrating capability via impactful analysis. Code and visualizations published through GitHub or ArcGIS StoryMaps offer helpful showpieces for job hunting.

Developing Mapping Applications

Employers almost universally list experience with ESRI’s ArcGIS suite as preferred or highly desirable. But other developer mapping tools continue gaining adoption while lowering barriers to entry through simplified APIs, scalability and reduced costs. Investing time across platforms represents a strategic capability-building move.

Many open projects need contributors, offering structured ways to develop expertise. Community mapping initiatives, humanitarian OpenStreetMap deployments during disasters, and missing maps collaborations to chart vulnerable locales all enable first-hand learning. Freelance gigsproducing custom web maps for small businesses also offer entry points to honing skills.

Call to Action: Investing in GIS Human Capital

Location-based intelligence underlies solutions to individual navigation and societal priorities alike. But a shortage of geospatial expertise leaves these possibilities underdeveloped. Students miss career opportunities, employers lack talent to carry out key initiatives, and communities miss out on social innovations for lack of skills and capacity.

Thankfully, promising pathways exist to transfer knowledge and cultivate new generations of GIS practitioners. Industry partnerships are stepping up with investments in specialized education programs and inspiring younger learners. New training options help both students and mid-career professionals transition into geospatial specialties. And open platforms make it easier than ever to gain hands-on experiences.

Realizing the potential, however, requires participation across sectors. Schools at all levels must incorporate geospatial curriculum, employers need to institute workforce development programs, and professional networks must improve outreach and access. Individuals from all backgrounds bringing curiosity, commitment and cognitive diversity into the geospatial arena accelerate the collective capability to apply location intelligence for the greater good.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *