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Learning & Development and data are key to top talent

Lex Pedersen, UK Country Manager - O'Reilly
woman in orange shirt and white pants holding silver microsoft surface laptop computer

Learning, Data and Beating the Curve

Learning, development and continuing education are increasingly becoming selling points for organisations competing for top talent. It brings them in, keeps them longer and ultimately gets the best work from them. However, many learning programmes are still ad hoc, disjointed and not necessarily aligned with long term strategy and the skills needed to get a business there.

But what makes an organisation decide to reframe its learning programmes?

There has to be an inflection point. A breakthrough in an industry that forces the need for a new skill on mass or a shift in business priorities that involves new technology or processes. At the moment we are seeing a different kind of inflection point. One that forces businesses to pivot for survival, but also to embrace a rapidly changing world that requires new and different skills from many people. Whether this is the healthcare industry that is being overwhelmed with testing data or large financial institutions that have lagged behind in digital capabilities, many organisations are faced with the need to reskill or upskill employees.

While this may feel like a time to tighten the budget belt, in reality, it is also a time to invest wisely. Businesses that invest in their people, their future and their success, will ultimately see it repaid in business growth. This is one way to come out of the current climate stronger and ready to meet new challenges.

Where to initially focus efforts can feel daunting, but one thing that every organisation has at its fingertips – and likely isn’t using enough – is data. Start there.

The Three V’s of Data

Data science may long have sounded like a mystic art form that happened behind the scenes and was too complex for most people. However, in the past couple of years data has come into its own. Labelled the new oil because of its value to businesses, data is what provides a competitive edge, understands customer needs and wants, and predicts the success of every product launch and communication plan.

Data is growing exponentially. It is being produced at an unprecedented velocity. Think about the speed at which the medical industry is receiving Covid-19 tests, this data has to be processed, stored and ultimately used to track progress of the disease. This leads to a huge volume of data that has to be ingested and analysed. There is also a large variety of data – it comes in all shapes and sizes, formats and file types. Tracing this disease has been a lesson in using data, or not in some cases, but it has also shown how powerful it can be when harnessed in the right way. It can drive policy, inform millions and help to create plans to get a country moving again.

This same principle can be applied to the data that all organisations use. Whether this is customer data, or usage data, global market data or buying patterns of large enterprises. It will continue to increase in velocity, volume and variety, so organisations must be ready.

Enter the Data Scientist

They are part mathematician, part computer scientist and part trend-spotter. They straddle both the business and IT worlds as they use their technical prowess to solve complex business problems.

As of 2019, the demand for data scientists had tripled over five years (+231%), and there is no sign of slowing down in 2020. Google searches for “data science” have quadrupled, and it has been ranked by experts as one of the top 10 best jobs in America each year since 2015.

A report conducted by The Royal Society, the Dynamics of Data Science Skills, looking at the current demand for data professionals and areas for action to meet the demand. While ensuring the education system is providing all young people with data science knowledge and skills is important, another key area for action is advancing professional skills and nurturing talent.

Finding the potential data scientist amongst your ranks is a great way to meet the demand. But once you have done this, you must invest in the right training and learning to make sure this potential is supported and realised.

Investing in progress

Although investing right now might feel like going against the grain, investing in learning has always proven to have good ROI. Embracing learning during lockdown also enables organisations to understand the progress that has been made in how learning is disseminated. No longer are people expected to take full days out of the office for long, laborious training sessions. The training comes to them, where they are and for what they need right now.

Learning platforms provide instantaneous knowledge. They teach you what you need to know in the moment to move forward with a project or solve a problem. They have practice environments to test the skills you need without breaking anything in your live environment. And they are live, interactive and engaging.

Business plans may be in constant flux at the moment. Leadership is desperately trying to predict what is around the next corner, how to prepare and what to focus on. This is an almost impossible job. But one thing that is a guarantee is that data will be at the heart of moving forward. And you need the people who can harness it to move forward. Learning has come a long way and organisations that invest in learning are making progress.

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