Information might be power for some, but data combined with analytics is power for all

This is a guest blogpost by Libby Duane Adams, Co-Founder and Chief Advocacy Officer at Alteryx.

Today’s evolving business landscape requires fast, informed, and accurate decisions for organisations to thrive. But to do so requires combining unlocking access to data with initiatives to educate, upskill and reskill people in data literacy. After all, the more people with analytics experience, the better. Democratising access to data and analytics across organisations means faster, more explainable work and better outcomes for businesses operating in a culture of immediacy.

There are two core barriers to businesses making full use of data. The first is the well-publicised data science skills shortage. The second is a prevalent mindset that layering on technology after technology can make up for that shortfall. While companies embrace becoming data-driven, many are still in the early stages of their journeys to become data-driven organisations. According to Gartner, by 2023, data literacy will become an explicit and necessary driver of business value. Alongside this growing skills gap, the UK continues to witness a significant rise in the adoption of data science.

This demand for data scientists is, however, something of a misnomer. Businesses don’t exclusively need data scientists – they need people with the right data skills to turn information into business-driving insights. Data and analytics skills are in such short supply across the UK that we don’t just face a skills gap; it’s an urgent skills crisis.  With organisations looking to fill data science roles with people who can articulate, inform, and explain (and not just code), the UK Government’s £23m funding programme to create more AI and data conversion courses is a significant step towards meeting the rising demand for data analytics skills and leveraging the power of AI and machine learning in the UK.

Clearly, there are not enough trained data scientists, but amidst this skill gap lurks another less publicised issue that poses a real challenge to ethical AI-driven innovation – a lack of diversity and inclusion within data science. While the development of ethical AI is within the grasp of every organisation, it will remain challenging without cultivating a diverse talent pool of data workers to draw on.

Ultimately you can’t transform your business to tackle the challenges of today or pre-empt those of tomorrow without people capable of refining raw data for insights. More importantly, it requires a diverse group of data-literate humans. The key to not only closing the existing skills gap but also the development of ethical AI rests not on a small silo of hard-to-find experts but more emphasis on building a broader data culture within the education system and beyond.

While this demand shift towards data literacy is creating urgency for companies to upskill their workforces to embrace data, this government program needs to also seed the market by creating more data science educational programs to meet the demand for this job skill. Only by building awareness of data analytics as a required job skill within the education system will recruitment supply start to meet demand.

Not too long ago, understanding data was only for higher-education students studying topics like computer science, IT, and statistics. These days all industries are data-driven, so it’s crucial to expand data literacy and analytics skills among all learners of all ages. That means that the education system needs to be building knowledge of data science and analytics across a broader range of primary and secondary school key stages in the national curriculum. When it comes to educating future and current employees, it’s crucial to enable them to become “fluent in data”, which is increasingly the common language of the business.

When I was younger, some of the most popular answers to the “What do you want to be when you grow up?” question was always astronaut, fireman, doctor, vet, or pilot. Today, people answer footballer, sports star, YouTuber, Influencer, all specialisms entirely transformed by digitalisation. Tomorrow’s game-changing heroes will be those who take data, analyse it, and solve challenges linked to climate change, medical research, or societal issues.

The benefit of real-time analytics and data-driven insights can’t be overstated. The difference between future success and failure rests on upskilling and recruitment strategies built upon a strong foundation of multiple, diverse viewpoints. Together with programs like the Alteryx SparkED analytics program, providing free renewable education software licenses, teaching materials, and learning pathways, we can help develop the data skills needed for current and future employees to meet the demand.

To encourage such a diverse pool of future data talent – young people need to start this journey and develop digital skills and a data-centric mindset at an early age.  In addition to increased data literacy across all stages of education, parents and guardians need to be educated on why these unique data analytics skillsets should be fostered as job skills to ensure their children thrive in future employment.

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