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We can’t leave future generations behind – using data skills to unlock an economic recovery

Dr. Paul Barth, Global Head of Data Literacy, Qlik


Many are warning of a generation lost to the pandemic and how this disruption might impact their ability to support the economic recovery.

In the words of UNICEF, COVID-19 has “exacerbated the learning crisis”. In fact, one in seven children globally have missed more than three quarters of their in-person education. The ramifications are significant – for young people’s personal development, for their ability to acquire skills, and for the impact this will have on the global workforce and, by extension, the economy.

So, it is little wonder that many are warning of a generation lost to the pandemic and how this disruption might impact their ability to support the economic recovery.

As the UN notes on World Youth Skills Day, “In post-COVID-19 societies, as young people are called upon to contribute to the recovery effort, they will need to be equipped with the skills to successfully manage evolving challenges and the resilience to adapt to future disruptions.” This underpins why we must consider what skills young people require and where the responsibility lies in ensuring they have the opportunity to develop them.

A new set of skills

For everyone else, the events of the last year have been a steep learning curve. In particular, businesses have needed to make faster decisions to adapt accordingly. A crucial facet of this, from CEO down to entry level graduate, has been the ability to read and understand data. This trend is here to stay as organizations respond to longer-term changes in working practices and consumer behavior.

As the next generation of talent enters the workplace, they will be expected to respond to these changes by quickly interpreting information and making decisions. However, Qlik and Accenture’s Human Impact of Data Literacy report revealed that “only 16% of employees below the junior manager level felt fully prepared to use data effectively when entering their current role.”

This shows that what employers need, and what new joiners can offer, are often quite far apart when it comes to data literacy. Ultimately, businesses can provide their young employees with all the data in the world, but it is only valuable when they know how to use it to inform decisions and take action. If workforce preparedness is closely linked to the ability of the business world to recover and build resilience to future disruptions, do we need to look back in employees’ development pathway to empower them with the necessary data skills?

Everyone has responsibility

Despite the natural focus on education to do this, upskilling the workers of tomorrow is a joint responsibility taken on by educational institutions, businesses, and governments. Here are three considerations to ensure young people have the skills to thrive in the future workplace:

1) Increase the focus on vocational training: There has long been a stigma when it comes to vocational training. However, more universities, colleges and schools are realizing they have a role to fill in preparing students for the world of work. Part of this means formalizing approaches to remote or hybrid models of studying, which will be applicable to the professional environment should students join companies where they will be working both in the office and at home.

2) Building digital and data skills into the curriculum: Just like many international business schools that teach their curriculum in English, allowing students an opportunity to learn a key global language before graduating, embedding data skills into the existing curriculum will ready graduates for when they enter the workplace. Some institutions have made this a priority, such as Radford University, where its Center for Innovation and Analytics provides students across a variety of disciplines with a grounding in the use of data – not just those pursuing technical degrees.

3) Continuous education for graduates: That said, the onus is not exclusively on the education system.  Businesses must also look at how they upskill young workers in data and other digital skills, whether they be graduates or other junior hires that don’t have a relevant grounding in these areas. This could be through workplace training designed and developed in-house; it could also be a best-of-both model that integrates the excellence of academic learning with applied real-life situations. A combination of theoretical understanding and practical applications can ensure that young people become accustomed to the types of information they will encounter in the professional environment.

Equipping future generations

Every young person should have the right to a rewarding, enriching career. In an increasingly data-centric world, they need to be taught the relevant skills to enjoy that right – something that has been prevented by the pandemic learning crisis. This means ensuring that the education they receive, whether from formal institutions or on the job, evolves alongside technological advances and the speed of business decision-making. To fuel recovery, the world needs people who can quickly understand information, adapt to changing situations and take advantage of opportunities as they arise.

Visit our Learn page for more information on upskilling in data literacy.