What are the Defining and Emerging Skills in the Global Consulting Market?

Published on Oct 12, 2023

Written by Rob Slane

Management Consultants

The global consulting market is one of the largest sectors within the professional services industry, not to mention one of the most complex to put a total value on, partly due to the large range of services offered by consulting firms. 

Analyst firms and other organisations have different market definitions of consulting, so estimations of its global value vary significantly, and range from $120 billion all the way to $280 billion. Still, everyone can agree that this multi-billion industry is very mature and has seen substantial growth over the last decades. Here are some undisputable facts to give you some more background into this sector: 

  • Consulting is overwhelmingly dominated by America, with Source Global Research estimating over 44% of the global consulting market to be in the US.

  • The sector has seen huge growth over the last 50 years, with the market growing every year since the 1970s, except in 2002 and in the three years following the 2008 global financial crisis.

  • The third is that the market is dominated by “The Big Four” – PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, and KPMG –, which between them account for almost 40% of the entire global market.

The factors driving the huge expansion of the market are numerous, but they tend to be closely linked to changes in the global economy. According to consultancy.eu:

For many years globalisation, consolidation, developments in laws and legislation, efficiency and technology have acted as the main growth drivers of the global consulting industry. More recently, digital and business model disruption has surfaced as the driving factor behind growth, particularly in the more mature markets.

Given that growth in the consulting sector is closely tied to changes in labour markets across the globe, can we see those changes reflected in the skills being requested by consultancies in their job postings? Furthermore, are there differences between the sought-after skills in different countries? The rest of this piece uses our job posting analytics to give some answers to these questions, including a look at the defining skills, emerging skills, and in-country skills that consultancies are looking for in their hiring.

What are the defining skills of the Big Four consultancies?

We begin by looking at the defining skills that the Big Four consultancies are requesting. By defining skills, we mean those skills that appear more frequently in job postings for consultancies, relative to all other job postings. To calculate this, we work out the proportion of all job postings that each skill appears in; the proportion of job postings relating to consulting firms that the same skill appears in; then finally calculate difference between the two to come up with a figure showing the relative concentration of the skill in consulting job postings. For example, where you see marketing software with a relative concentration of 24.6, what this means is that this skill is 24.6 times more likely to appear in job postings for consulting firms than in all other job postings – therefore making it a defining skill for consultancies.

For the purposes of this analysis, we looked at four of the countries with the biggest market share in consulting - the US, UK, Germany, and France, which between them make up over 61% of the global market. The chart below shows the niche skills requested by the Big Four in these countries, as well as all four countries combined:

For the most part, the skills seen in the first tab for all four countries are very similar to those seen in the second tab for the United States. This is simply because of US market dominance, whereby it has by far the most consulting-related job postings of all these countries.

There are, however, some really interesting differences between countries. For instance, some of the skills that appear in the top 20 for the US, but in none of the other countries include marketing software; augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR); and virtualization and virtual machines. For the UK, the skills that only appear in its top 20 and none of the other countries include integrated development environments (IDEs); industry specific marketing; and Agile software development. For Germany, geospatial information and technology; genetics; and wind energy. For France, laboratory research; data storage; and business intelligence.

Some of these skills might seem surprising. Why, for instance, does genetics appear in the data for Germany? To understand this, we must bear in mind that the skills requested in job postings for consultancies don’t just include skills that might be essential for consultancy, per se, but also those that are intrinsically linked to the type of work they are currently involved in, which as we mentioned above is often intrinsically linked to broader labour market trends and changes. For example, Deloitte has a Geospatial Analytics division, and Ernst & Young is involved in the field of genetics.

What emerging skills are the Big Four consultancies looking for?

While the relative concentration metric tells us which are the defining skills for these consultancies, another hugely interesting metric we can look at is emerging skills. To calculate this, we first work out the percentage of consulting postings in which a skill was mentioned in both 2019 and 2022, then filter out those that already appeared in more than 5% in 2019, and lastly work out the percentage growth between the two years. For example, promotions and campaigns, has grown by 147% in terms of the frequency of Big Four consulting postings it was mentioned in across all four countries from 2019 to 2022.

There are even more nuances between countries in this data than we saw in the relative concentration measure. For example, there are 18 emerging skills in the US top 20 that don’t appear in the top 20 for the other countries. These include skills such as industry specific marketing; community and social work; and physics. In the UK, there are 16 skills that don’t appear in the top 20 for the other countries, including web design and development; cloud computing; and cloud solutions. For Germany, the comparable figure is 17 unique skills out of 20, and these include software development tools; automotive technologies; and user interface and user experience (UI/UX) design. Finally, for France there are 18 unique emerging skills in this top 20, including cybersecurity; business operations; and social media.

Do in-country consultancies have different skills needs than the Big Four?

Finally, we want to delve into the question of whether there are differences in the skills required by the Big Four, and those sought after by consultants based in a particular country. To answer this, we’re again looking at data for defining skills, but this time for Germany only, comparing those requested by the Big Four with the ten largest German consulting firms.

Once again, we see a number of similarities but also a number of key differences. On the similarities side, we see not entirely unexpected skills appearing in both charts, such as pricing analysis, business consulting, and risk management. We also see some of the more surprising skills we mentioned earlier, such as genetics, and geospatial information and technology, as well as criminal investigation and forensics (which is connected to cybersecurity).

The most interesting data, however, is seen in the differences. It is noticeable, for instance, that there are more data, digital and AI-related skills in the list for the top 10 German consultancies than the Big Four. For example, log management, mainframe technologies, blockchain, natural language processing (NLP), and extraction, transformation and loading (ETL) are all niche skills for the top 10 German consultancies in Germany, whilst the Big Four tend to have far more finance-led skills, such as auditing, financial analysis, and financial management.

"As we've seen, the skills that consultancies are looking for when hiring not only differs between countries, but also between companies, as Germany-specific data particularly highlights. Yet we are only really scratching the surface of what can be done with this kind of skills data, and the many other applications include comparing skills requirements between rival consultancies, or of course similar for other sectors too. As labour markets become ever more complex and fast-moving, the necessity for organisations to use such granular skills data and workforce analytics to understand their workforce, their market, and their competitors is only going to become increasingly vital."

If you’d like more information about how our unparalleled skills data and insights can help you understand the skills needs of particular sectors, countries or companies, get in touch.

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