Why Data Literacy is the Future of Work

Many questions remain in the aftermath of COVID-19, with some of the biggest ones relating to the economic recovery. When will the economy rebound and, if so, how long will it take? What skills are needed to ensure the next generation is capable of recovering from the next pandemic? And, are those skills applicable to other black swan events? It is equally as important to ask this question: What role will data play in not only predicting but preventing future problems?

These are all important questions. But, we must reflect before we can use data to unlock a longer-term economic recovery. We should, in effect, examine who will be doing the unlocking: the students of today. The pandemic disruption to their education has been profound, and its impact may be long-lasting.

In the days leading up to World Youth Skills Day, the United Nations shared data highlighting the impact on global education. Between March 2020 and May 2021, schools were either fully or partially closed for more than 30 weeks. Nineteen countries still had full-school closures by late June, impacting nearly 157 million learners. This was in addition to the 768 million learners who were affected by partial-school closures. Another study by Bellwether Education Partners estimates that three million already underprivileged students stopped their education during the pandemic. This widened the gulf between them and STEM careers.

Although the pandemic may have thrown existing plans off course, education is a lifelong journey. It is now time to get back on track. We can start–and come out stronger than ever–by learning how to read, understand and work with data. In other words: we can become data-literate.

Data Skills Are Vital for Any Career

People don’t often think of data as an HR tech tool. But, if we are to overcome the economic challenges of the last year, we have to think outside the box. We will need to have the skills necessary to quickly interpret and act on information as it’s delivered. In order to do that–and become a society that’s led by data, not assumptions–change is in order. Most notably, educational, business, and governmental institutions will need to take a closer look at data literacy.

Data literacy has become a core skill that everyone needs in the modern workplace, not just analysts or C-suite executives. Every individual–from those who are still in school to new recruits and beyond–must be prepared. They need to be able to comprehend the power and potency of working with data. Without that knowledge, they won’t understand the scope of the challenges and opportunities in front of them. And no amount of HR tech tools will change that. They need to know how to digest the numbers, argue with the results, and put data to use. In doing so, they’ll be able to solve problems, invent new solutions, and uncover ways to be more productive.

This is no small matter, and achieving a high level of data literacy will not be an easy task.  Research shows that less than one-third (32 percent) of C-level executives are classed as data literate. Less than one quarter (24 percent) of business decision-makers are confident in their ability to use data effectively. Data literacy is even lower for 16- to 24-year-olds; only 21 percent are able to effectively use and work with data.

Closing this gap will require that data literacy training is embedded in schools and workplaces. And, most importantly, that it is available to everyone throughout their careers.

Career Progression Depends on Data Literacy

Students and young professionals may not yet understand the importance of data literacy. However, if they don’t learn now, it could be too late. Businesses already need and benefit from hiring people who are data literate. They increasingly rely on HR tech tools to ensure the hiring process is as smooth as possible. But, these skills will be table stakes for the jobs of the future. This is why a growing number of universities, colleges, schools, and educators are taking action.

Ensure That Data Literacy Is Part of the Curriculum

Data literacy should not be limited to students in math or analytics-related programs. It should be part of every curriculum, no matter the subject or desired career. Just as English and basic math are essential to virtually every profession imaginable, data literacy has become a must-have skill. It will provide great value to current and future workers. Data literacy will make candidates more attractive and allow those with this skillset to excel with any employer.

Upskill the Masses With Continuing Education

Although it is important that future generations are prepared for the data-driven economy, existing workers don’t get a free pass. They must also possess the skills necessary to read, comprehend and use data to make informed decisions. And, for that, continuing education is a must. Whether delivered by employers, at school, or in a virtual setting, data literacy has become a vital skill set. The Data Literacy Project offers free resources that can help individuals, enterprises, and institutions get started.

Rise Above the Economic Downturn

Data is an essential component of every organization. We need it now more than ever. As we look to rise above the economic downturn, organizations will rely on HR tech tools to find new talent. From automakers and financial institutions to consumer packaged goods and beyond, they’ll be looking for people who are data literate. Businesses have found that they can make more intelligent decisions when relying on accurate information. Data can be the difference between success and failure, especially when a business fails to turn information into actionable insights.

However, most information still goes to waste. A report by IDC shows that organizations use just one-third (32 percent) of the data available to them. Make time to grasp the importance of data literacy to reduce waste. This eliminates guesswork and leads to productive employees and more successful enterprises driven by data. And, that will allow us to come out of the pandemic with an economy that’s stronger than ever before.


One More Look Back: #WorkTrends Top 5 Podcasts of 2020

While 2020 was a rough year for many people and businesses, there were opportunities for growth. Sometimes, all we had to do was listen… to the top 5 #WorkTrends podcasts of 2020, for example.

For many years, #WorkTrends has served as a place of learning within the world of work. 2020 was no exception, as we featured many of the top minds — and many of the best companies and products — that serve the talent community.

As you look ahead to 2021, we invite you to listen to the #WorkTrends conversations that resonated most during 2020…

5) Leading Through Uncertainty

The moment we all started realizing just how impactful the COVID-19 pandemic would be, Doug Butler of Reward Gateway joined host Meghan M. Biro to discuss how leaders can bring teams together and keep them working collaboratively — even when working remotely. In our fifth-most-popular podcast of 2020, you’ll hear solid advice that’s just as applicable today as it was in June when we recorded this episode, starting with how to encourage open, honest, clear communication.

4) The Human Impact of Data Literacy

The next most popular episode of 2020 featured Jordan Morrow, then Global Head of Data Literacy at Qlik. Jordan offered tremendous insight into why we’re not using data the way we could — or should. In this episode, Jordan shared the findings of a Qlik/Accenture report on the human impact of data literacy — and why globally we miss countless opportunities because we don’t better train our employees to use data.

3) The Empathy Gap

In the third most downloaded podcast of last year, Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, the CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts, joined Meghan to discuss potential workplace disasters. Dr. Tsipursky is a noted consultant, cognitive neuroscientist, and expert on behavioral economics. And during his appearance on #WorkTrends, he noted that the workplace suffers from an epidemic of disengagement. Specifically, he points to one glaring disaster within company culture: a lack of empathy. Listen in!

2) The Myth of Employee Engagement

In our second-most popular post of 2020, Mark S. Babbitt, CEO of WorqIQ joined us to talk about why our approach to employee engagement has been all wrong and still is off-base today. In this episode, Mark noted that our view of this critical workplace topic hasn’t helped us move the needle one bit — engagement levels remain the same as they were in the 1990s. More importantly, he and Meghan talked about how to overcome the impasse.

1) Assessing Digital Skills for Hiring Now

Our top post of 2020 features Sean O’Brien, Senior VP of Education at SAS, who joined us to discuss how remote work — the most dramatic shift in the workplace for 2020 — has moved from a luxury to a necessity for everyday survival. Sean noted that remote working — with its technical, practical, and cultural challenges — also shifted the hiring process further into the digital sphere. Listen to this episode to learn about how digital tools are helping organizations hire effectively in this new environment!

As we look across these #WorkTrends episodes as well as our top five blog posts of 2020, we see clear proof that last year wasn’t all bad. In fact, opportunities for individual and organizational growth exist, even in the strangest of times. We invite you to take a few minutes to enjoy these insightful conversations. And, of course, join us for even more insights in the year ahead. Our goal: to make 2021 the best year yet in the world of work!

As always, thank you for listening to #WorkTrends — and for being an essential part of the TalentCulture community!


Photo: Margaret Weir

Training Your Workforce for Data-Driven Decision-Making

The power of business driven by data insights is undeniable. But no matter how clear we are about the importance of being able to base key decisions on a clear framework of data analysis, actually applying this approach is another story for many organizations. From leaders to managers to workforces, what’s needed is a program that encompasses all the knowledge, skills and strategies to enable our people to become data-fluent and data-confident, so they can apply the right data to their decision-making across the board.

Just why some organizations fall short on this is partially a matter of culture: we may embrace the concept of “data” in our work cultures, yet we fail to commit to developing the analytics skills our teams need to harness the data. It may also be a matter of infrastructure: many organizations simply will not have the means to create, manage, and implement a multidimensional training program on their own. And for some, it is the inability to assess our own limitations: we may not even realize where the gaps are in terms of competencies — or even the technology needed to carry them out. On all these fronts, however, there is no reason to go it alone.

To effectively empower our workforces, it’s a best practice to establish a partnership — one that provides the vision, structure, tools, and collaborative energy to turn our people into data-driven decision makers. If we’re going to transform our work culture to be competitive going forward, that’s what we need to instill data-driven decision making as a core competency. And we need to be able to capture the imaginations and drive the engagement of a diverse and multi-generational workforce — who may want their learning delivered in a whole range of ways, across different channels, and at different speeds. 

Recently I sat down with Donna Trice, Sr. Mgr., Education and Training Division, and Katie Whitley, Education Account Executive, of SAS for a roundtable about just this challenge. We discussed how SAS works with organizations to shape effective, ongoing  partnerships, embarking on a collaborative journey around data literacy and analytics training that carries through from planning to adoption to refinements. It’s a dynamic that thrives when all parties are actively involved. What SAS brings to the table is a level of expertise, perspective and also flexibility that most organizations don’t have, and likely need, to equip and train our workforces to become data-driven decision makers. 

What follows are highlights from our conversation:

Assessing Needs

Meghan M. Biro: Something I see in terms of technology now is that it’s not about simply selling and buying. There’s no “one and done” with software and tools that are this powerful and this sophisticated. Learning the technology is also a huge part of being a modern company. True learning partners can’t position something and then walk away. They have to create an ongoing partnership and be responsive to a company’s evolving needs. 

Can you talk about how you assess the individual needs of each company — and what some of the distinguishing factors are? You may be working with a company that wants to be in front of the most cutting-edge skills, and another company that is a bit more traditional. So how do you determine the best route for skills training for each of these workforces? And what are the various methods for coaching and learning that work for one work culture versus another? How do the approaches differ, and what tools do you use, such as learning portals?

Donna Trice, SAS: We start by having conversations, qualifying and understanding their learning goals. We work with our clients to look at their skills today and where they want to go. Together, we create a training plan that works for them and their employees.  This may include a learning needs assessment, some may prefer public classes; others may want us onsite; others prefer e-learning. We can bend and flex to cater to customer needs.

It’s all about meeting the customer where they are. So, for companies that aren’t as ready to take a large leap, those that prefer a more traditional approach to learning, they may schedule multiple onsite training sessions up front on multiple topics versus a company that comes to us and says “I want to build out a data science team.”  For that company, we may lay out a six-month plan with different training modalities complete with a custom learning portal and reporting to track progress and outcome metrics. 

Creating the Foundation for Skills Development 

Meghan M. Biro: I’m going somewhat high level here, but do you think part of the gap regarding training and skills has to do with how we envision skills development? We hear a lot about the training that employees themselves need. But it seems like companies also need to take a clear look at the big picture. 

In other words, how can we better equip our leaders and managers and learning teams to make the right decisions for their workforce, and develop that 20/20 vision? What’s the right approach for working with leaders to develop a real base of knowledge — so they can set a course for learning and development that fully utilizes the capabilities of their own technologies?

Katie Whitley, SAS: This is such an interesting question — and there are many sides to the answer. We need to look at skills development with our customers two ways: macro and micro. And we need to give customers the confidence that we can help tackle both.

The macro is important so organizations can see the big picture of skills development — how it will affect and benefit the entire workforce. It’s not just getting their people trained. It’s understanding their jobs, the skill set needed to be successful and exceed beyond that, and their current ability to meet those expectations. In other words, where are they now and where do they need to be to meet their business objectives? It’s also important to understand how making these advances forward will not only benefit one group but create efficiencies company-wide.

But not everyone will need the same plan to succeed. Once you have the big picture of how skills development will benefit your organization at the macro level, you need to look at the individuals and get a true understanding of the current skill levels and not only understand their gaps, but their ability to learn, and the format in which they learn best. Creating role-based plans specific to an individual’s learning needs will ensure the employees are getting a tailored, prescriptive plan — where success can be tracked and measured.  

And, the most critical piece to success is ensuring knowledge and skills are building up. Because, let’s face it, there are lots of e-learning platforms out there. SAS pays critical attention to this part, and issues completion badges and globally recognized certifications to validate skills gain. We’ll even step in with mentoring and coaching if it’s needed to advance knowledge gain. 

Mentoring hours and certifications are a great way to achieve this. When you combine this with role-based plans that look different for a business analyst versus a data scientist, administrator or model manager, that’s where you get success. As a business, you have to prioritize these plans according to your goals and find the right learning partner to get you there.

The Future of Work

Meghan M. Biro: Looking forward, we want to make sure our workforce masters in-demand software and tools. I know certain careers are starting to really pick up, like data science, where jobs are growing by 29% this year. Given the job starts at around six figures, I’m not surprised it was LinkedIn’s most promising job for 2019. But skills in data science require a lot of very specific learning — and we see a lot of gaps in our current workforce. 

What will it take to better train our workforce — and ensure the next generation is ready to work with AI and machine learning? I’m also thinking of education: How does learning cross over from the workforce into the academic arena?  

Donna Trice, SAS: SAS’ approach to building the next generation of data scientists, programmers, and AI and machine learning experts is rooted in building collaborative relationships between businesses and academic institutions to ensure there is an analytics talent pipeline that businesses so desperately need. 

This can take the form of free training and enablement, such as course materials and workshops, to help faculty build their curriculum, along with low and no cost SAS software options. We also work with academic researchers, providing them with access to powerful SAS Analytics so they can extract deeper meaning and insights from large amounts of disparate data.

All of that said, in order to truly fill the analytics skills gap, there has to be a partnership between analytics companies like SAS, universities, and industry. SAS is finding creative ways to be there to support universities who want to give their students a competitive edge in the labor market, while also helping commercial customers find and hire the early-career talent they need. The key is building collaborative relationships between SAS’ industry and academic partners — to ensure alignment between the analytics skills that faculty teach, and that students learn, and what industry needs to grow and succeed.

This post is sponsored by SAS.

Photo Timon Studler

To Access the Data Goldmine, Workforces Need to Be Data Literate

We are in the midst of a data revolution. Businesses and organizations across all sectors collect, store and analyze huge amounts of information. However, they often struggle to realize data’s full potential. According to a recent report from Accenture, Closing the Data Value Gap, only 32% of business executives surveyed said that they’re able to create tangible and measurable value from data. 

Why? Because many companies struggle to fully utilize the capabilities of their entire workforces. 

That’s why Qlik and Accenture commissioned  The Human Impact of Data Literacy. The 2020  global survey of over nine thousand workers found that businesses at the tipping point of their journey to become data-driven are investing heavily in data-ready skills to help enhance individual and organizational performance. 

The majority of workers surveyed said that they read and interpret data as part of their roles, and communicate with data, making data-driven decisions at least once a week. But only 25% of these employees believe they were fully prepared to use data effectively when entering their current role.  

There is much progress to be made. With technology developing far more quickly than the typical employee’s ability to harness data insights, some employees feel they do not have the right tools or support, and are starting to feel overwhelmed. The research found that just 21% of global workers are confident in their data literacy skills — the ability to read, understand, question and work with data. 

This can have significant consequences for their overall performance and, in turn, have an impact on the organization’s bottom line. 

Empowering workers to fulfill their potential

Organizations with a workforce fully invested in the effective use of data are already seeing a competitive advantage. According to the 2018 Data Literacy Index, they have benefitted from increased performance and a higher total enterprise value of between three and five percent, equating to US $500 million. In contrast, the Human Impact of Data Literacy study found that companies lose an average of more than five working days (43 hours) per employee each year due to procrastination and sick leave stemming from stress around information, data and technology issues. This ultimately would equate to billions in lost productivity around the globe.

In order to realize that opportunity, organizations need to unlock their people’s potential with five key steps:

  1. Set your data expectations.

Setting clear expectations means that everyone — whether in product development, marketing or business intelligence—understands what is expected of them. By clarifying how data is going to be used, employers can start to define how different roles across the organization will align with and contribute to overall business goals. 

To do that, organizations need to understand how their employees actually work with data and educate them on how data supports organizational goals. This empowers employees to see how their actions directly contribute to creating value for the business. 

  1. Map the way to achieve data goals.

The next step is to assess the state of data within the organization. That covers everything from measuring individual levels of data literacy, to understanding the availability and adoption of technology and tools and defining who needs access to what data. 

This has to be accurate – currently, there is a gap between what leaders think and what might actually be the case. Three-fourths (75%) of C-suite level respondents in our Human Impact report believe that all or most of their employees have the ability to work with data proficiently.  Even more (79%) believe that their employees have access to the tools they need to be productive. But middle managers and below are less optimistic: half feel that all or most employees have the right abilities, and the same number echo the sentiment when it comes to access.

  1. Arm your employees for data-driven working.

Organizations must provide employees with the tools, processes and methodologies that enable them to use data as required and meet business goals. This includes not only tools, but training and continued support to advance skill sets.

  1. Close the data literacy skills gap.

However, simply having the right tools is not enough. Workers need to be data-literate. No matter how accessible data is, employees need to be capable of understanding, questioning and taking the right action based on the insights delivered. This  improves their experience of and confidence in using data; employees who identify as data-literate were at least 50 percent more likely than their data-novice peers to say they feel empowered to make better decisions and trusted to make better decisions.

  1. Create a culture of co-evolution.

The way we access and use data is constantly evolving, and so must a workforce’s understanding and ability to use data — there is no fixed endpoint. That’s why businesses need to build a culture comfortable with this state of continual change. Regularly assessing abilities, skillsets, tools and overall requirements will help employees persistently gain skills in their data literacy and is a fundamental aspect of empowering them to use data effectively and appropriately. 

Your most powerful data tool? Your people.

As Sanjeev Vohra, group technology officer and global lead for Accenture’s Data Business Group, put it:A workforce comfortable with data is a powerful asset; forward-thinking employers that prioritize their teams’ data literacy will reap the rewards.”

Education and empowerment will be the true determining success factors in the data-literate world. Technology may be creating data and giving workers the means to harness it, but organizations can only realize its full potential. by establishing and building understanding of what data can do, how it should be used, and who should be using it. 

This post is sponsored by Qlik.

Photo: Kevin Ku

#WorkTrends: The Human Impact of Data Literacy

Jordan Morrow joined Meghan M. Biro for this #WorkTrends podcast sponsored by Qlik. The topic: data literacy. It may sound simple enough, but it’s far from it.

Meghan notes that 60% to 73% of all enterprise data is never analyzed. “Data remains a value that’s trapped by our own lack of understanding,” she said as she introduced Jordan. As global head of Data Literacy at Qlik and Chair of the Advisory Board for the Data Literacy Project, Jordan has long been involved in studying data literacy and had a lot to say about why we aren’t using data the way we could — or should.

Citing recent findings from a Qlik/Accenture report on the human impact of data literacy, Jordan explained why organizations around the globe miss countless opportunities because their employees aren’t trained to better use data. The report found that just 21% of the global working population are fully confident in their data literacy skills. In other words, the data on data literacy is pretty clear. There’s a huge productivity gap caused by our lack of data literacy.

In part, Jordan pointed out, we don’t know how to use data because we either think it needs to be isolated from any human experience, or we’d rather just go with the human experience and leave out the data. The truth is, we need both, he said. “To realize true potential with data, you need to combine the human element with the data and technology element.” 

“We’ve got a long way to go,” Meghan said, and asked Jordan if our current state of data illiteracy surprises him. He said it doesn’t. He’s been watching this evolution for years, and he believes that we’re way behind in terms of how we educate our young talent, not to mention students in schools. And of course, both agreed that data literacy should be taught in schools.

In general, we need to stop worrying about people making mistakes as they learn to use data. Curiosity, creativity and critical thinking all have to be developed from a young age, Jordan said, and then we’ll be on our way.

“Let them muddy the puddle,” he says. It’s all part of embracing technology, embracing change, and becoming comfortable with this new way of approaching information. And it will certainly get us to the future of work faster.

What’s at stake?
[23:19] Data and analytics is not going to slow down. So companies that want to succeed in the future have to embrace data literacy. They have to, so you have to have those skills.

Listen to the full conversation. And don’t forget to subscribe to the #WorkTrends podcast, so you don’t miss an episode!


You can find Jordan Morrow on Linkedin and Twitter