Whilst transformation initiatives across the UK have accelerated at breakneck speed, the pace of digital upskilling has failed to keep up, creating a far deeper skills chasm than previously reported. A new survey from Alteryx, the analytics automation company, showed a critical imbalance between self-perceived data knowledge and the skills needed to deliver business value – highlighting an overly confident workforce that are unaware of the data skills they don’t yet know.
In a survey of over 1,000 UK employees who work with data in large companies, Alteryx found that more than three quarters (79%) classify their data skills as above average. While data is consistently classified as the main outcome driver behind modern business decisions, just 29% – the ‘data champions’ – are proficient at using that data to deliver business value.
Despite the clear link between data-driven insights and business agility, this lack of knowledge and skills inflation is stalling business transformation efforts across the UK. While the historic digital skills gap centred on a lack of hireable talent, we now see a new phenomenon: a lack of talent in those available to hire. Hindering every organisation trying to leverage data-driven insights for a competitive edge due to a lack of analytic talent.
When asked about specific knowledge areas, Alteryx uncovered that respondees ranking their data skills as ‘above average’ were in fact primarily skilled in basic data preparation techniques of getting the data ready, such as gathering, sharing, and handling. As exhibited by our ‘data champions’, more advanced analytic workflow skills that deliver business value such as descriptive (22%) and prescriptive (16%) analytics** are far more rare.
“Digital transformation has moved beyond boardroom discussions. It’s now mission critical for UK businesses to be able to assess, analyse, and adapt to constantly shifting requirements through data,” comments Alan Jacobson, Chief Data and Analytics Officer at Alteryx. “Employees with strong data skills are a core requirement for developing business resiliency and the ability to pivot at speed. Despite the inherent value of data-led decision making, there is a critical disconnect between what skills are reported and the reality. The majority of data workers are frequently unaware of what they don’t know – and are missing the key skills to deliver on what is needed to drive this transformation forward.”
Overall, just one third (33%) of data workers reported they were confident in their ability to identify trustworthy data, to clean data (36%), and to share it securely (38%). Businesses are at a watershed moment where resiliency is intrinsically linked to the ability to thrive, yet with key analytic skills missing from the workforce, the speed and trajectory of this digital journey is thrown into question.
Despite this new divide between the vision for, and the reality of, data work, 71% of workers overall believe the pandemic has increased “the importance of having strong data skills to make informed business decisions”. Highlighting the need for greater upskilling and data literacy, the majority of workers believe more training in data work would result in “better” (78%) and “faster” (66%) decisions.
Plugging the Skills Gap Chasm
While many workers do not currently have the advanced skills required, the 29% of respondees who do use advanced data strategies – our ‘data champions’ – feel their skills enable them to not only save money (71%), but also generate additional revenue (67%), and deliver business value (79%).
Not every worker needs to become a data scientist, but by ensuring these ‘data champions’ are at the helm of teams, businesses can effectively build their own internal pool of talented data workers, with the skills, desire, knowledge and analytical expertise to be successful and thrive.
Strategies to Create the Data Champions of the Future:
- Delivering the right training and support: Only 17% of UK respondents say they receive the right kind of data training at work. Through analytic investigation training, businesses can empower workers to consume and understand data to ensure greater business value is delivered from it.
- Integrate critical upskilling incentives: 63% of those surveyed grapple with an unknown unknown; believing data work won’thelp to further their careers. Contradicting this, however, 71% of data champions with perfect*** skills know they will progress faster using advanced analytics.
- Keep data analytics as simple as possible by using the right tools for the job. Just 27% of data workers have the ‘perfect’ tools to analyse data. Half of data workers describe a lack of dedicated data analytics software (48%), and 42% report no access to easy-to-use, code-free applications.
- Upskilling teams to drive data literacy: Investment in continuous data analytics education is vital. Data workers on average feel data-literacy initiatives would empower the overall workforce (42%) and enable them to work more independently (41%).
“It is clear that finding and hiring ready-made data experts is even more difficult than previous data suggests, but there is significant promise to be found in these ‘data champions’,” Richard Timperlake, VP, EMEA, at Alteryx adds. “While every organisation sits on a wealth of data that could be used to gain a competitive edge, it’s impossible to leverage it for insights without analytic talent. Only by integrating and driving upskilling and data literacy initiatives will businesses effectively plug this skills chasm.
“Contrary to popular belief, upskilling in data and analytics doesn’t necessarily involve learning advanced maths or computer programming. Flexible, self-service platforms with easy drag-and-drop automation and fully automated, explainable machine learning can empower data workers to easily leverage the latest data science best practices to help drive analytic maturity into their enterprise.”