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.

The Disconnect Between our Educational System and Organizational Demand

Does our educational system leave new graduates at a disadvantage? The U.S. educational system has long been considered one of the best in the world, but in recent years, it’s stagnated. According to the latest Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) (a triennial global study), the U.S. was the lowest-performing industrialized country—below average in math, and only hovering around average in science and reading.

Middle of the road won’t cut it in this global economy. The World Economic Forum (WEF) recently ranked the U.S. as third on the Global Competitiveness Index, behind Switzerland and Singapore, pointing to the quality of education as one of the reforms needed if we’re going to improve. We risk slipping further if we don’t do something.

This issue goes beyond the “skills gap” we often decry. It highlights a disconnect between our failing educational system and the demands of the real world. If employers want to stay strong, they’ll need to step up and ensure our students have the skills they need for success.

The Educational System Needs to Adapt

There isn’t one single challenge that’s holding young Americans back, but it’s clear that our educational system needs to adapt to a changing world—and workplace. But why does that seem so difficult?

One issue is that there are different standards for core skills. Responding to the PISA report, Harvard professor Paul Peterson, director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance, said the variation between state and local educational systems means, “We sort of have an educational system where no one’s in control.”

In countries with a strong educational system, Peterson notes, students have to do well in specific courses if they want to go on to university. “We have a more ambiguous sense of what we want our high school students to learn in this country,” he said.

At the same time, experts recognize teaching styles need to change but acknowledge there isn’t one single solution.

Traditional education uses a relatively passive transmission of knowledge: The teacher creates the lesson plan, and students are expected to absorb and retain the information. Standardized tests help parents and teachers track progress and see how each student measures up against their peers.
Traditional teaching with standardized testing is supposed to provide a level playing field for all students but doesn’t account for individual skills or learning styles. Instead, it can put learning at risk by adding pressure to students and teachers to score well.

An alternative open-ended and self-directed method of learning is gaining traction as a more viable educational program, but that isn’t a perfect solution, either. If education is shaped solely by choice instead of by a standardized curriculum, we run the risk of having students left behind in critical areas of their education.

Until the educational system improves, American students will enter the workforce at a disadvantage—putting the onus on employers to help ensure, their employees have the skills they need to compete.

How to Meet the Demands of the Workplace

According to “The Bloomberg Recruiter Report: Job Skills Companies Want But Can’t Get”, strategic thinking, communication skills, creative problem-solving, and leadership skills are among the “less familiar, more desired” skills employers are seeking. Despite the number of people graduating from higher educational institutions, employers continue to complain about a shortage of these workplace competencies.

So here’s a thought: instead of waiting for the educational system to catch up, companies can begin to take proactive approaches. These initiatives might include:

  • Internships: Internships are good for both businesses and students. Not only do they help build skills for future employees, young talent means new ideas. A firm that invests in these hands-on programs will gain a fresh perspective.
  • Mentoring Programs: A well-implemented mentoring program creates a culture of learning where employees actively teach and explain best practices to each other. Mentoring programs help level the playing field, but it also helps people at all levels of the organization stay sharp.
  • Scholarships: Scholarship programs incentivize students to reach their highest potential, regardless of the education system in which they’ve been brought up. They encourage a drive to succeed that can be impossible to measure in a qualitative way.

Some companies are also partnering with educational institutions to shape the curriculum to meet the needs of their industry better and decide which skills are immediately and tangibly valuable. According to the World Economic Forum, America’s innovation is already partly “driven by collaboration between firms and universities.” This sort of strategic engagement is more complicated but may yield better long-term results.

Embracing the Opportunities with the Challenges

Employers need to consider the shifting educational landscape and offer avenues for growth to their employees. By doing so, companies don’t just open the door to new demographics and potential talent that will provide them with direct benefits; they also broaden the scope of what we consider education and offer more cohesion between the educational system and the demands of the business world.


photo credit: Jenga game via photopin (license)