How to quickly upskill with data training

There is a growing gap between the pace of digital transformation and the provision of the foundational skills needed to deliver it. The good news is that the C-suite is becoming more aware of the problem...

The digital skills gap is growing, with new research indicating that a third of senior leaders face an ever-growing challenge to deliver core data work through upskilling.

A new report from Alteryx, which sampled 1000 UK workers (and a further 2000 across Europe) shows that 39 percent of these executives feel “overwhelmed” by the things they are “supposed to learn” to turn data into business-changing insights. 

Meanwhile, half (48 percent) of data workers are unable to upskill at all due to being “pulled in to day-to-day tasks”, and one in four (26 percent) do not know where to start.    

This research comes at an awkward time for the government as it is trying to define its “levelling up” agenda and address the skill gaps between regions in the UK. 

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 percent stating they are motivated to grow their skills. With just 14 percent having begun this upskilling journey, and 4 percent having ‘completed it’, action from business leadership teams becomes more urgent.  

Further exacerbating this lack of clear upskilling strategy, 51 percent 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 percent 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 mould 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 under-considered 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,” he adds, “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  

  1. 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.  

  2. 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 percent believe upskilling should be the responsibility of business leaders, but just 3 percent believe this responsibility should sit with HR.   

  3. The research also 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 percent of data workers report they received no data training at all; 55 percent reported lacking access to data specialists or mentors, and 46 percent report lacking senior support.  
  • Leaders focused 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 exited 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,” he continues, “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.”