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Businesses suffering due to lag in data skills training

A new research by  the analytics automation company Alteryx, has today revealed a  core discrepancy between the accelerated pace of digital transformation and the provision of the foundational skills needed to deliver it. Despite workers’ confidence in providing business value through their data skills, the research calls future digital competiveness into question due to stalled digital upskilling in recent months.

A new research* has  revealed a  core discrepancy between the accelerated pace of digital transformation and the provision of the foundational skills needed to deliver it. Despite workers’ confidence in providing business value through their data skills, the research calls future digital competiveness into question due to stalled digital upskilling in recent months.  

In a survey* of 1,000+ data workers in the UK, Alteryx discovered that one in three (32%) senior business leaders* believe their organisation is “falling behind” compared to their competition. 39% of these executives are “overwhelmed” by the things they are “supposed to learn” to refine data into business-changing insights.  

Over half (56%) of these business leaders recognise that driving upskilling initiatives is their responsibility, but the research shows that day-to-day challenges continue to take priority over critically important data training. Half (48%) of data workers are unable to upskill at all due to being “pulled in to day-to-day tasks”, and one in four (26%) do not know where to start.   

Leadership and data workers: priorities at loggerheads
Despite the volume and complexity of data rising at an exponential rate year on year, half of C-Suites, VPs and business unit leaders – those now held responsible for driving upskilling strategies – see little difference between the skills needed today, and those needed in five years time. Encouragingly, the majority of respondees still confirm they see upskilling as a priority, with 65% stating they are motivated to grow their skills. With just 14% having begun this upskilling journey, and 4% having ‘completed it’, action from business leadership teams becomes more urgent.  

Further exacerbating this lack of clear upskilling strategy, 51% of data workers admit they don’t currently see a correlation between upskilling and salary increases from improved data skills. With a limited perceived salary upside from improved data skills, just 27% of data workers are “motivated” to learn in their own time. Developing the human skills vital to digital transformation projects is essential for success, but the onus for driving this falls back on business leadership.   

“The fields of data analytics and digital transformation continue to challenge companies to break the mold and deliver new and constantly evolving ways to upskill and deliver ROI.” comments Alan Jacobson, Chief Data and Analytics Officer at Alteryx. “A core feature of digital transformation that is often underconsidered is the human factor, and the development of the foundational skills required to make such projects a success.  

“With data workers entering employment at any and all skill levels across the analytic continuum, leadership must commit with conviction to evolve beyond any antiquated approach to data literacy and analytics upskilling and drive a cultural shift to learning within their organisation that scales with employees. Only by making long-term commitments to prioritise – and investments to incentivise – learning, will the workforce be empowered to deliver more efficient outcomes and ensure competitiveness going forward.” 

 Three core business challenges stalling data literacy:  

  • Firstly, while employees want to be enabled to perform high-level work, a disconnect exists between digital upskilling prioritisation and business reality – where leaders require digital expertise but fail to offer crucial support in developing them.  
  • Secondly, a shift in the organisational responsibility for training. Workers are instinctively reinforcing the view that those closest to a problem are best placed to solve it. 62% believe upskilling should be the responsibility of business leaders, but just 3% believe this responsibility should sit with HR.   
  • Thirdly, the research highlights a longer-term challenge. Demand for digital skills is skyrocketing, but over half of the leaders responsible for driving these programmes see no requirement for new data skills in the next five years. 

Strategies to drive the skills upgrade: 

  • Formalise a clear and communicated data strategy alongside upskilling programs that address the core competencies of data literacy required across the entire analytics journey: 27% of data workers report they received no data training at all. 55% reported lacking access to data specialists or mentors, and 46% report lacking senior support.  
  • Leaders focussed on digital transformation should target both cultural, upskilling and technology strategies that help to create analytics competency to fuel digital innovation: Fostering a data literate workforce is key to driving digital transformation. Upskilling has not kept up with the pace of accelerated transformation seen through Covid. Although businesses see themselves as falling behind their peers, there is an inconsistency between the value of upskilling, the responsibility for precisely who will deliver it, and the perceived monetary value of upskilling for both business leaders and employees.  
  • To close the talent-gap, leaders must cultivate a culture of data analytics from the top down. At the top of that pile, comes making employees excited about improving their data literacy skills: Almost one third of British leadership teams (C-level, VP-level and business unit leaders) know this skills challenge will harm their business. Integrating incentive programmes to encourage upskilling, and rewarding the increased value those skills bring, will be key to enabling employees on this journey.  

This skills disconnect has the potential to seriously hinder the UK’s competitiveness on a global scale Richard Timperlake, Senior Vice President, EMEA, at Alteryx adds. “As our business environment becomes increasingly digital, data literacy is the skill that will pay off both in the short and long-term – moving businesses away from time-consuming manual tasks, and towards automated insight generation.  

“Only organisations that empower their workforce to affect business-change with data will reach the true potential of their digital transformation initiatives, but the core gap between the high business value attributed to such skills and the resources applied to upskilling in this area will stall transformation. With formal education still decades from catching up to the business reality, it is the responsibility of individual businesses to incentivise workers and show that any increase in skills will be rewarded.” 

*Research from Alteryx

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