Make no mistake about it: Companies’ demand for lean skills continues to exceed that for Six Sigma expertise in a robust market for continuous improvement talent. Nevertheless, demand for Six Sigma skills may be staging a comeback.

Those are two takeaways from the ninth annual talent study by The Avery Point Group, an executive search firm whose focus is lean, Six Sigma and operational excellence.

The current study, which examined nearly 7,100 recent Internet job postings, indicates that the combined demand for lean and Six Sigma talent remains nearly flat compared with the previous year’s study but is more than double 2010’s demand levels.

See Lean vs. Six Sigma Talent Demand INFOGRAPHIC

After that, results take an interesting turn from last year’s findings.

For example, in last year’s study, demand for lean talent exceeded that for Six Sigma by almost 68%, nearly double the edge it had held in the previous year. That 68% margin narrowed to little more than 24% in the current study.

Moreover, “for the first time in our study’s history, we saw a very noticeable improvement in the year-over-year demand for Six Sigma talent,” says Tim Noble, managing principal and partner of The Avery Group.  

Indeed, the Avery Point Group notes that demand for jobs looking exclusively for Six Sigma talent rose to 27% of the postings reviewed this year, compared with a record low of 20% last year. Even more, data show that Six Sigma is gaining strength even among lean job postings. For example, 43% of lean job postings this year sought applicants who also had Six Sigma skills. Last year that percentage was 34%.

Noble identifies several factors that may explain the improved demand for Six Sigma skills. He suggests companies may be finding their recent heavy focus on lean isn’t quite meeting their needs. As a result, they are seeking to augment their existing Six Sigma capabilities.

He also posits that firms may be trying to balance their stable of continuous improvement talent, “thus we may continue to see ongoing fluctuations reflective of what we saw last year and this.”

Overall, however, Noble is inclined to take a wait-and-see approach when it comes to predicting Six Sigma demand going forward. That said, “Make no mistake about it, despite this year’s results, lean continues to dominate the overall continuous improvement talent demand landscape, and by all indications that is likely to continue,” he says.

Indeed, 41% of the job postings examined sought pure lean skills, compared with 27% that sought pure Six Sigma skills.