From education to employment

Why closing the UK’s data literacy gap is key to future global success

Andy Cotgreave, Senior Data Evangelist, Tableau, A Salesforce Company

As the world we live and work in becomes increasingly digitised, the need for data literate employees is greater than ever before. Gartner defines data literacy as the ability to read, write and communicate data in context, including an understanding of data sources and constructs, analytical methods and techniques applied. For those with high levels of data literacy, the number of opportunities and career paths available to them is growing all the time. Conversely, those who aren’t data literate in today’s tech-centric business climate risk struggling to get onto the professional ladder at all, as data-driven ways of working increasingly take centre stage across nearly all business sectors and industries.

The UK is lagging behind

Worryingly, the UK is starting to lag behind the global standard when it comes to data literacy training and education. In May 2022, Tableau published Forrester Consulting research, which revealed the UK had lower rates of basic data training skills (39%) compared to neighbours like France (48%) and Germany (58%), as well as the rest of the world (61%).  These findings stemmed from a survey of more than 2,000 executives, decision makers and individual contributors in 10 countries working at global companies with 500+ employees.

The same study also found major discrepancies between employers and employees. Employees in the UK expressed the lowest satisfaction with their organisation’s data culture, training, and utilisation, with only 40% saying they’re provided with the data skills they’re expected to have. This is despite 79% of leaders surveyed saying their departments equip employees with the needed data skills.

If things continue as they are, the issue is only going to get worse too. UK decision makers said that nearly 85% of employees would be using data on a more regular basis – including product, IT, HR and operations, and expectations are only increasing. In fact, by 2025, close to 70% of employees are expected to use data heavily in their job, up from 40% in 2018.

Closing the gap is crucial

Closing the data literacy gap needs to be a top priority throughout the UK. Data skills are now absolutely necessary to help people grow valuable, inclusive businesses and make data-driven decisions, so that people of all ages – and especially young people – can build sustainable careers with in-demand skills.

The value of investing in data skills is longevity and existence. Simply put, businesses won’t survive without strong, data literate workforces in an age of increasing innovation and technology. Fundamentally, data literacy offers significant competitive advantages too. Business success depends on tech training, which will empower every employee to use data to make better decisions.

Fortunately, there are numerous initiatives that businesses and government organisations can incorporate to upskill both new and existing employees. In fact, we have pledged to train 10 million more data people around the world, including in the UK, over the next five years. To do this we have introduced a range of new training and education opportunities, as well as doubling down on existing programs designed to build and reinforce essential data skills. Examples of this include the expansion of our Academic Programs to provide free software licenses and eLearning to educational institutions, the introduction of new NGO and government skilling efforts to bring virtual training/education to people, and the expansion of data education to apprenticeship programs.

Our annual Student Ambassador program is another example, which aims to help those just starting out in the world of work. Student Ambassadors are champions in higher education who empower and inspire others to acquire fundamental skills needed to improve their employability and set them on the path to success. These Ambassadors support on-campus events and social media campaigns to prepare students for success in today’s data-driven world.

Building a digitally savvy, data literate workforce for the future

As the need for data literate employees at every level of the global workforce continues to grow, those that fail to address it in an effective manner risk putting themselves at a significant competitive disadvantage.

The UK is currently in a precarious position in that regard. However, by acknowledging the issue and working closely with data experts within the industry, it will soon find itself back in the game.

By Andy Cotgreave, Senior Data Evangelist, Tableau, A Salesforce Company

Related Articles