Building Data Literacy for Tomorrow: How education and employers can address the data literacy gap
Updated: May 30
As the schools and universities go back to commence a new year, we take a look at how education needs to adapt to support developing a data mind-set, and things that businesses can do to address the data literacy gap they will continue to face…
There are increasing numbers of sources talking about the huge skills gap in data science and the need to improve data literacy skills within industry:
The World Economic Forum has identified data science as the industry with the largest skill gap
A Data Skills Gap study commissioned by the UK Government in 2021, reported that 48% of businesses questioned were recruiting for roles that require hard data skills but 46% had struggled to recruit for these roles over the last 2 years
Datacamp reported in 2021 that there are three times as many data scientist job posts on LinkedIn as there are data scientists in the world
Qlik’s report developed in collaboration with the Data Literacy Project and The Future Laboratory, Data Literacy: The Upskilling Evolution, shows that data literacy is set to be the most in-demand skill by 2030, with 85% of executives believing these skills will be as vital in the future as the ability to use a computer is today
But is education supporting the growing need for a generation of data analysts?
Whilst many universities are now offering data science courses and there are a growing number of degree apprenticeships being offered in data science, it is predicted that there will continue to be a significant gap between roles required and data science university graduates.
The UK Data Skills Gap research identified between 178,000-234,000 data-related roles in UK companies to be filled, with the estimated potential supply of data scientists from UK universities unlikely to be more than 10,000 per year.
With a huge gap to fill, there is much that primary and secondary education could do to support the growing need for future employees to have a strong data mind-set and want to pursue careers in data science.
A strong focus is clearly needed in the curriculum on getting more students interested in STEM subjects and developing the analytical skills of students. The National Curriculum and performance tables are still set up to support the English Baccalaureate (EBacc), showing how many students get a GCSE grade C or above in English, Maths, 2 sciences, language and history or geography.
It is encouraging to see that Scotland has launched a project to develop an interdisciplinary data education curriculum for Scotland, with real world data science teaching materials https://dataschools.education
A survey conducted by Ocado Technology as far back as 2015 identified that 6 out of 10 parents would prefer their children to learn Python programming language rather than a modern foreign language. Despite this modern foreign languages are still often compulsory but Computer Science is perceived as an 'easy option' stopping children from selecting it at GCSE or A-Level.
The UK Data Skills Gap study also found that 2 fifths of students weren’t clear on how to become a data scientist, therefore a greater focus is still needed to highlight it as a career option.
Supporting employers to develop data literacy skills and mindsets:
Whilst education systems need to adapt to focus more on data literacy, this isn’t the only route to filling the data literacy gap. There are plenty of strategies that employers can take to help fill their gap in skills and develop existing employees to be more data literate for the needs of their businesses going forward.
Develop a clear company-wide data strategy - work with data experts to develop your companies data strategy and roll this out to the wider organisation and development of a data team.
Make data easy to access and use, so that everyone is telling the same story (a data strategy would be useful to make that happen).
Ensure all strategies are measurable - utilising tools such as SMART objectives (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) /OKRS (Objective Key Results) /KPIs (Key Performance Indicators).
Create processes that require metric and performance evidence to be provided as part of the budget sign-off system.
Develop a data-driven culture. Encourage all staff to be inquisitive about company data. Work off a set of data rules and get everyone on the same page to make it the 'company way' in how best to use data to support evidence to deliver impact.
Live and breath your metrics, make them visible and communicate how you are trending so you create familiarity with how you are measuring the company.
Encourage curiosity in data, data visualisation, and competitions to encourage the use of data for business ideas, growth, and test and learn.
Encourage a data champion within each team or department across the organisation.
Encourage training and the development of data skills - not just for an internal data team, but across other departments, where there is a need to understand and work with data to deliver outcomes.
Ensure everyone has the basic skills to be able to read and interpret data, do's and don'ts of what to look for and what are the common pitfalls in data use.
There are large numbers of data courses available, or run Lunch and Learn sessions, where internal data and analytical experts can share their skills and knowledge.
Look at Data Analytics apprenticeships. If you need a data analytics team, consider developing internally utilising Government apprenticeship schemes.
Additional Reading and Support:
Hopefully, this has given you some useful ideas on how to develop the data literacy within your business, for further reading, these resources are also good to provide some excellent advice to employers on what they can do to support upskilling their employees in data literacy:
The Data Literacy Project - the Seven Principles of Data Literacy https://thedataliteracyproject.org/files/downloads/The%20Seven%20Principles%20of%20Data%20Literacy%20by%20Qlik%20and%20Accenture.pdf
Harvard Business Review - How CEO’s can develop a data driven culture how-ceos-can-lead-a-data-driven-culture
Harvard Business Review - How data literate is your company? https://hbr.org/2021/08/how-data-literate-is-your-company
Gartner - Creating a Data Driven Culture https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/create-a-data-driven-culture-by-influencing-3-areas
Tableau - New Research Finds Lack of Data Literacy Undermines Business Performance. https://www.tableau.com/about/press-releases/2022/new-data-literacy-research
At MoJo we have developed data strategies for large numbers of businesses across a wide range of sectors, please get in touch if you would like a chat about how we could support you.