Data literacy skills crucial for the workforce of tomorrow

Child using computer - learning data literacy skills
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Data literacy is one of the most in-demand skills for UK employers. A lack of data literacy in the workforce - the ability to read, work with, analyze and communicate with data - is a growing concern that will continue to impact UK business, if not addressed. For many employees working across a wide range of industries, such as retail, manufacturing and financial services, the ability to interpret data is now a common and essential task. Once only required for employees within data analytics and business intelligence teams, employees across an organization, whether from the finance, HR or marketing departments, are now having to develop a wider understanding of data, using shared numbers and dashboards to make collective, informed decisions.

About the author

Dan Pell is the GM and Senior Vice President, EMEA, for Tableau Software.

While one part of the solution is businesses investing in training and upskilling their teams, another essential component is embedding data skills into education. Starting data education early would put the next generation in a strong position to exploit the potential of digital transformation; making digital natives data natives too. We’re not there yet - as Tableau’s recent research with UK school leavers shows - but a closer relationship between business and education could help close the gap.

Lockdown’s knock-on effect on employability

New research from Tableau has exposed a significant issue for UK businesses, regarding the future workforce. For students, the Covid-19 pandemic has stifled their ability to learn essential data skills, with more than half (54%) feeling that they have missed out on developing data analysis and communication skills - prerequisites in so many of today’s professional roles.

The nationwide research, which we conducted to assess the skills education of pupils across years’ 10-13, also found that less than half (47%) of students believe that their current school curriculum has prepared them for working life. For example, 38% of students are unaware of the key skills sought by employers.

A recent report from the Royal Society, looking at the effects of lockdown on education, revealed that the school time lost through pandemic regulations could harm the UK economy for the next 65 years, with the next generation of school leavers ill-equipped for further education or jobs.

In compiling Tableau’s research, we teamed up with Professor Pat Tissington, the Academic Director of Employability and Skills at the University of Warwick, to further explore the data skills gap in the education system. He found that if the UK wished to accelerate its economic recovery, there needs to be a significant focus on preparing pupils, at all levels, for the world of work - giving greater focus to the skills that are becoming increasingly important for employers, such as data analysis.

Despite data skills being a crucial part of employees' lives day-to-day, our research reveals that almost half (47%) of students find the concept of data analysis to be scary. Even preceding the pandemic, in the last two years, almost half of UK businesses (46%) have struggled to recruit for roles that require data skills, and a recent report found that the lack of data-driven skills could significantly hamper the UK economy - costing as much as £2 billion annually.

Avoiding a data skills gap crisis

If the UK is to avoid a data skills gap crisis, more work needs to be done to provide students with the digital skills they need for the workplace. For young people across the UK, those who cannot demonstrate the skills required will struggle to stand out to employers against other candidates. As we emerge from lockdown and review the state of the nation, and the level of education provided to our children, there is a fantastic opportunity to build back better, as priorities can be realigned to reflect the demands of UK businesses, today and tomorrow.

We can’t expect a major overhaul of the curriculum overnight, but there are ways to embrace learning opportunities as schools, colleges and universities play catch-up. Several businesses, including Tableau, offer data literacy courses for children, young people and adults, to help anyone from all walks of life learn the foundational data skills they need for the ever-evolving digital needs of employers. For businesses to thrive in the future, they must also play their part in investing in the UK’s digital economy. Providing their future and current workforce with the tools necessary to see and understand data is a crucial element of this.

Dan Pell is the GM and Senior Vice President, EMEA, for Tableau Software.