Operations Research Analyst: The Fastest-Growing Job You’ve Never Heard Of

By Dr. Edward Rothberg, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder, Gurobi Optimization

As the world continues to gather mountains of data, we need math-minded people to help us make sense of it all. Therefore, it’s no surprise that demand for mathematics professionals is on the rise — second only to healthcare.

Employers will be competing to hire statisticians and data scientists, but they’ll also need to fill a role many have never heard of: operations research analyst. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects U.S. employers will need an additional 25,000 operations researchers by 2030 — making it one of the top 20 fastest-growing jobs this decade.

Although it’s not a household name, operations research has been around since at least the 1940s. It plays an integral role across industries — from aircraft scheduling and energy distribution to supply chain network design.

But what do operations researchers do exactly? How do you know you need one? Where can you find them? Let’s tackle these one at a time.

What does an operations research analyst do?

Simply put, operations researchers use mathematics to solve business problems.

They dig deep into your business processes to discover what’s working and what isn’t. This process often involves talking to employees, suppliers, and customers to identify their pain points. They will also examine the business financials and metrics to see where there may be deficiencies and opportunities for improvement.

They take this information and create mathematical models to find ways to make things run better. Essentially, they answer the business question: “What’s the best way to do what we do?”

For example, energy providers need to deliver cost-efficient, reliable power. However, maintaining the delicate supply-and-demand balance can be extremely complex, especially when it comes to green energy sources. You can’t tell the wind to blow, the sun to shine or the rain to fall.

Operations researchers can take all of these variables into consideration, put them into a mathematical model, and then use mathematical optimization to calculate the best course of action. They can determine mathematically the best way to deliver cost-efficient, reliable power while also addressing regulatory constraints and green energy goals.

Do you need an operations researcher?

Nearly every company has room to improve its operations, and most can use off-the-shelf tools that have optimization tools built in. However, when you use off-the-shelf solutions, you’re always leaving something on the table.

By hiring an operations researcher, you can get someone who has one foot in your business and the other in math. They can apply the unbiased nature of mathematical optimization to help you identify the best way to operate your business.

Many businesses already have a team working on data analytics and machine learning. These professionals can provide the data insights you need so you can understand what’s happened in the past and what’s likely to occur in the future. However, by adding operations researchers to your team, you can take those insights even further — by identifying the best course of action for that predicted future.

Where can I find an operations researcher?

According to our unpublished 2021 Gurobi Customer Survey, most operations researchers have a master’s degree (44%) or a Ph.D. (40%) — typically in the fields of operations research, engineering or mathematics. If you can attract and hire an operations researcher with this level of training, I recommend you do.

Not every business can, however, and not every person with operations research potential will pursue a higher degree.

The good news is that you can bridge this gap to some degree by creating your own team of home-grown operations researchers from within your organization. Start by approaching your data scientists — look specifically for those who understand and care about your business, and ensure they also have a strong mathematics background.

Then, have those individuals start learning mathematical optimization — the operation researcher’s primary tool. By adding mathematical optimization to their existing skill sets, data scientists can provide more value for your organization, as they investigate and model various business scenarios to help you make better decisions.

This approach can give you the operations capabilities you need during a decade when these skills will be the hardest to find.