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Data Literacy is Critical for the Future Workforce

Jordan Morrow, Global Head of Data Literacy, Qlik


With the pandemic speeding up digital transformation, people will increasingly be required to understand the data it produces.

With the pandemic speeding up digital transformation, people will increasingly be required to understand the data it produces.

The past few months have undoubtedly taken a toll on almost every person across the world. The true extent of the economic impact is yet to be seen, but with many countries already in recession and unemployment levels reaching an all-time-high, we – as individuals, employees and employers need to prepare ourselves for the strange and rocky road ahead.

Whilst experts predict the mass shift to remote working will give employers access to a greater pool of talent, the devastating impact on employment will have knock on effects for years to come. Research shows that this is set to hit the under-25 demographic the hardest – many of whom are due to enter the workforce for the first time, potentially putting their future career paths into a state of limbo. For older generations, already years or decades into their careers, the post-pandemic world will no doubt spark memories of the aggressive job market they experienced during the 2008 Financial Crisis.

However, today, we are participating in different ball game to the one played 12 years ago. According to Gartner, the pandemic has accelerated the speed and scale of digital transformation, which of course presents huge opportunity. Yet, a deficit in digital skills now – on the part of an organization or an individual – has the potential to jeopardize the future competitiveness of both. So, what does this mean for our careers? And what action should be taken now?

Understanding the requirements of future jobs

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), we are on the brink of a ‘Reskilling Revolution’. The new kinds of jobs emerging in the global economy will require a different set of skills to work more intimately with intelligent machines, data, and algorithms.

According to data from LinkedIn, roles with the fastest growth rate include artificial intelligence (AI) specialist, robotics engineer, data scientist and developer. What do all these roles have in common? They all require a strong set of technology skills – from a close understanding of data to a familiarity with working with the latest cutting-edge tech.

An understanding of digital, however, will increasingly become a pre-requisite for both those looking to enter the workforce and those with already established careers. While individuals should be empowered to enhance their own skills to keep pace with the changing job market and to maintain job security, the onus is also on businesses to ensure they are educating their workforce to understand the new world of work.

Education, education, education

There is no time to lose when it comes to upskilling, but this does not necessarily have to mean enrolling onto lengthy STEM degrees or taking expensive coding courses. With technologies such as AI or Machine Learning (ML) expected to become so pervasive, even roles in totally separate areas of a business will require a basic understanding of how to interact and get the best out these technologies – from IT, through to marketing and customer service. Employees of the future need to rethink the definition of a well-rounded skillset. This must include a blend of practical digital skills, an inquisitive mindset, and the ability to ask questions of what is in front of you and to problem solve.

In fact, research from the Data Literacy Project and Qlik found that employers often look for – or even prefer – practical data skills over formal academic qualifications when it comes to hiring new candidates. In other words, employees will need to acquire a certain level of fluency when it comes to the data that future technologies use and produce.

This is increasingly being recognized by universities too, with some now prioritising practical data skills for the students to ensure they are fully equipped for the future. HAN University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands, for example, provides practical training for students in data literacy and data analytics.

Taking advantage of free training

Margins are tight for businesses across the world. Over the last few months, we have seen global players recognize this and look to help organizations urgently upskill workers in data literacy and other technical skills – and in a way that does not cost the earth. Many have also launched free courses online to help workers upskill. For example, Google announced 100,000 scholarships for online certifications in topics such as data analytics (with no pre-requisite for an undergraduate degree), because these were fields that were likely to lead to ‘high growth, high-paying careers’. Furthermore, the Data Literacy Project provides a large number of free e-learning courses and certifications to help anyone increase their data literacy skills in order to prepare them for the future of work.

Now is the time for action

None of us can confidently say what the next six months to a year, or even two, will hold for us. The long-term impact of the pandemic is still largely unknown. What we can be sure of is that is has changed the employment market for good. COVID-19 has been a catalyst to speed up digital transformation, and people – both those entering and established in the workforce – will increasingly be required to have adeptness at technology and the skills to understand the data it produces. Both individuals and businesses must therefore get started on their data literacy journey, which requires minimal investment but potentially enormous returns.

Now is the time to take action to prepare for the next-gen workforce.