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Ed Youdell and Stacey Jarrett Wagner Talk: Big Data Vs Small Data — Which is What?

A conversation on new tools for the workforce of the future.



Ed:  Stacey, what do you know about Big Data?

Stacey:  The last time I had a Big Data was my high school prom.

Ed:  Not that kind of data!  I’m talking about all the information in the cloud hiding in plain sight.

Stacey:  Oh! It’s like IoT? The Internet of Things?

Ed:  Hmmm, sort of. The Internet of Things is the network of physical objects, or “things,” embedded with electronics and connectivity that exchange data with other connected “things”. So the IoT is the superhighway for Big Data. There’s so much data being collected out there at such an ever-increasing pace, that folks are having a difficult time figuring out how to use it in a productive and analytical way.

Stacey:  Well, I know how to use some of it. I would like to study the connection between humans and machines at the workplace (or wherever they work) to teach, learn and create all at the same time. You know, pairing up smart machines and smart people. It’s the 21st century way of conducting workforce training.

Ed:  Yes, but it’s not the only way. At FMA, like many professional associations, we provide online training classes. Today’s digital learning can be just as effective — or more so — than classroom or conference-style lectures.   On the job training is also an excellent way for employees to learn within the context of their company’s operations and can be quite cost-effective.

Stacey:  Perhaps, then, the IoT and Big Data will change the value proposition of workforce training from trying to capture small data such as the cost/benefit of a workforce training class, to understanding how best to use Big Data to capture performance improvement among many related business factors.

Did you know the Department of Commerce published a report in March of this year that found data transforming the country’s occupations and career ladders. There were 10.3 million data jobs —occupations that place a high importance on analyzing and processing data and interacting with computers — in America in April 2013. And that’s just the ones the report considered “very important.” If they had included the simply “important” data jobs, then there would probably be 64 million jobs, or 59 percent of total employment in this field in the United States. How can we make sure that our young (and not-so-young) Americans have the skills to own these jobs?

Ed:  A stronger emphasis by policymakers around increasing enrollment in statistics and computer science courses is important for the development of an effective workforce.  Adapting online courses that teach data skills is a high return, high reward effort for students as well as for employers, especially manufacturing employers.

To move this process along more quickly, I suggest an organization such as the Department of Commerce take the lead on developing a national strategy around data skills and technologies, such as the IoT. Establishing a common standard makes it easier for manufacturers, workforce professionals and technology providers to drive adoption and increase efficiencies. Any focus around helping people to prioritize and more fully understand the value of Big Data and the IoT is worth the effort.

Stacey:  My guess is that you are not just speaking for us, but for many. I hope our advice creates some action. And while you’re creating action, could you look up my old high school boyfriend for me?

(Top image: Courtesy of Thinkstock)



Edward Youdell is the President and CEO of the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, International. He can be reached at




Stacey Jarrett Wagner has more than 20 years of experience in workforce development, conducting research and providing strategic thinking and technical assistance on workforce development technology and issues. She can be reached at



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