data literacy

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.