June 25, 2021 by Remie Verougstraete
We’ve recently examined the growing role of data in our economy through a comparison of top skills for data jobs and demand for data visualization skills across companies and job roles. In this skill spotlight, we’ll continue rummaging through the data toolbox by exploring demand for one of the most powerful and widely used technologies out there: SQL
Often pronounced “sequel,” SQL stands for “Structured Query Language” and is “the standard language for relational database management systems” according to the American National Standards Institute. In layman’s terms, it’s a programming language used to work with databases (accessing data from them, updating them, etc.).
So that’s what SQL is. But how important is it in the job market? Is demand growing or declining? What kinds of careers (and what level of earnings) might this skill unlock for graduates? And, of course, the real question is: Should you teach this skill? If so, where does it fit into the curriculum?
Good questions. Let’s dive into the data to find out.
Looking at unique monthly postings in May for the past several years, we can see a pretty strong upward trend, with the one blip on the radar in the summer of 2020 (the summer of COVID; see orange bar below). As of May 2021, postings were basically back to where they were in 2019 and appear poised for a continued upward climb (demand grew 46% in the past 12 months).
Besides trends, we also want to consider posting volume. Sure, demand is growing. That’s good. But is there a critical mass of employers out there currently hiring for this skill? Answering this question can help us determine if SQL is a newcomer to keep an eye on, or a well-established player in the programming space (spoiler alert: it’s the latter).
As the chart above shows, there were 217,968 unique postings mentioning SQL in May of 2021. For context, the number of postings mentioning HTML or CSS (the basic building blocks of every webpage on the internet) in that same month was just over 100,000.
Clearly, employers have an appetite for SQL skills. Demand is strong. That’s great! But we also need to know where that demand is concentrated within the broader economy. What employers and job roles call for these skills? And what other skills will students need to qualify for those jobs? Let’s keep digging.
The top 10 companies posting for this skill over the last 12 months illustrate the breadth of demand for SQL proficiency.
We see an enterprise software/IT provider (Oracle), healthcare companies (Humana and Anthem), defense/aerospace (General Dynamics), ecommerce/cloud computing (Amazon), consulting (Deloitte and Accenture), banking (Wells Fargo), social media / technology (Facebook), and financial technology (Fiserv).
Regardless of what kind of product or service these companies provide, the common theme is that they collect and analyze vast amounts of data...something increasingly characteristic of leading businesses in the fourth industrial revolution.
What are the specific roles within these companies that require knowledge of SQL? We can begin to answer this question by looking at the job titles employers use in postings. These titles give us a more nuanced, detailed perspective (vs. SOC codes, for example) of how SQL is used in the labor market.
Even though the top titles are all “tech” roles, we can see two distinct professional pathways emerging. Consider these top four titles:
As we look down the list, we see these two pathways continue to play out: Java Developers, .NET Developers, and Full Stack Developers representing the first group while the Data Engineers and Business Analysts fit (basically) into the second group. Database Administrators, who actually maintain the database itself, round out the top 10 by filling the number nine spot.
Now, we’ll look at other skills appearing alongside SQL in employer job postings. As Emsi's own VP of Application Development says, “skills don’t like to travel alone.” In other words, employers tend to value combinations of complementary skills rather than any single skill in isolation. Identifying these in-demand skill combos is critical for making informed decisions about how to arrange and enrich curriculum. Let's take a look at job postings for SQL over the past year to see what the top related skills are.
Unsurprisingly, we find a few other programming languages. This makes sense in light of the prevalence of Software Engineer/Developer job titles we saw in the previous section.
Beyond programming languages, there are a few other complementary skill sets that employers value in combination with SQL:
Since we’re considering teaching SQL at the post-secondary level, we should also consider what education level most employers are asking for when they try to fill these roles. Here’s what we find:
Most (65%) want a bachelor's degree and almost a quarter of postings (23%) ask for a master's degree (and note that a substantial number of postings, 27%, did not specify).
We also see that fully ⅓ of postings ask for 2-3 years of experience. This highlights the value of co-op or internship experiences that would allow students to build out their resume while still enrolled. Are there internship opportunities for those wanting to put their SQL skills to work?
In Analyst, we can easily filter to look at postings for internships. When we do, we can see some of the top employers (some are the same as the top overall posters, but some new ones come on the list as well), and check out sample postings for those opportunities.
At the national level this data is interesting, though not necessarily actionable. But, if we do this same analysis at the regional level (focusing on businesses in our institution’s region or state), it can inform outreach to employers for establishing win-win internship or co-op experiences for students.
One last data point to consider is the wage for jobs requiring SQL. Knowing that there are jobs is important...but it’s also nice to know what they pay. Do they offer a living wage? Are they worth the time and money a student would invest learning SQL and related skills? Answering these questions can help inform your own decision to teach a skill (or not), as well as equip marketing and recruitment teams with compelling data to show prospective students.
While many employers still don’t disclose salary information in postings, a growing number do. In our case, we can see (below) that only 8% of postings for SQL in the past 12 months included salary information. Thankfully, that still gives us a fairly significant sample size of 62,000 postings.
As we can see, the median advertised salary in these postings is $90,000. This is well above the living wage for a single adult living in California (the top state for SQL job postings...and one of the more expensive states to live in), and should put graduates on a good track to start paying back any loans they may have taken on in pursuit of their education.
So, with some quick research in the Analyst platform, we have:
With this information, our institution is now ready to: