Business & Industry Offer Dynamic Environment for Statisticians

August 5, 2013

in Statistician Job of the Week

By Roger W. Hoerl, GE Global Research

Do statisticians in business and industry have a sexy job? Steve Lohr—in a 2009 New York Times article—made some remarkable statements about career opportunities for statisticians in business and industry. He quoted Hal Varian, chief economist at Google, as saying, “I keep saying that the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians. And I’m not kidding.”

The statistics profession has had a profound impact on such diverse areas as health care, the environment, census taking, and education. Perhaps less visible has been the significant effect statistics have on business and industry—the private sector. Nonetheless, this effect has been real and noteworthy, and business and industry affords statistics students another viable career option.

The Rich Legacy of Statistics in the Private Sector

An early development in the private sector is the work of Walter Shewhart at Western Electric, a manufacturer for Bell Telephone, in the 1920s. Shewhart realized the importance of reducing variation to improve business processes and developed the concept of “special” and “common” causes of variation.

Among those affected by Shewhart’s work was statistician W. Edwards Deming. Deming helped apply Shewhart’s methods (and inspection sampling) to U.S. munitions production during World War II. After the war, Deming promoted the application of Shewhart’s methods and the philosophy to peacetime industry—both in the United States and abroad.

Throughout the next few decades, the application of statistics within industry grew exponentially. This growth included statistical quality to include applications in product and process design, marketing, and process improvement.

The distinction between industry and business applications blurred when such high-tech industries as computer chip manufacturing, biotech, and software became critical components of the economy and began hiring statisticians.

More recently, new business and industry trends have included the emergence of data mining to analyze massive data sets, growth in financial applications of statistics—particularly in risk management—and the emergence of statistical challenges in developing Internet search engines (e.g., Google).

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