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Closing the data divide: Training imperative to future-ready workforce

In this dynamic digital economy, the more data-savvy your workforce is, the stronger your business outcomes will be. But, in Australia, data literacy remains the weakest link in the data value chain.

Organisations are generating vast amounts of data but are missing the mark when it comes to equipping employees with the skills they need to harness data-driven insights in their roles.

That’s why data literacy skills have become key areas of focus for business leaders looking for a competitive advantage in every facet of their organisation — from operations to sales to recruiting and retention. 

A recent survey conducted by Forrester Consulting and commissioned by Tableau found that 71 per cent of Australian business decision makers agree that every employee across all departments should have at least basic data skills. Yet only 33 per cent of the workers surveyed said their organisation offered them data training — representing a significant divide in expectation and execution, with Aussie employees emerging as the most dissatisfied when compared to countries like Singapore and Japan. 

In Australia, the impact of a competitive job market and talent shortage is widely felt. Recent ABS data revealed there are almost half a million job vacancies in Australia as of May 2022, more than double the vacancies from February this year.

According to the survey, investment in skills training could play a key role in driving employee retention, with 90 per cent of Australian employees more likely to stay with a company that invests in training.  

People are your strongest asset

The most powerful asset in creating business value from data is people. Employees are the ones who need to be able to harness data-driven insights to solve problems, streamline processes, innovate and ultimately make better decisions.

The ‘why’ for investing in data literacy is clear. According to the Forrester survey, 70 per cent of Australian employees are expected to use data heavily in their job by 2025, which has almost doubled since 2018 (38 per cent). 

Businesses need to agree on the level of data proficiency required for different job types. For example, a sales representative doesn’t need the same level of knowledge as a data scientist, but both should be able to use data meaningfully in their roles. So training and investing in data literacy doesn’t mean having to train every staff member to become a data scientist — it means empowering them to succeed in their individual roles.

But when it comes to the ‘how’, where do businesses start? 

It takes an ecosystem to build a data-literate workforce

Data literacy as a shift in mindset can’t be an afterthought. Leaders have a pivotal role to play in instilling the day-to-day discipline to use data.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, here are a few ways to get started: 

  • What does training look like? – Looking at what the business is aiming to achieve through training will help assess what curriculum the business requires and identify whether a partner is needed within the ecosystem to support driving training initiatives. Lean into people analytics solutions to recruit and train more efficiently.
  • Spark curiosity – Showcasing the real-life impact of data within the business can help incentivise learning for employees who can see how data can inform decisions and change outcomes.
  • Gamify data training – If employee engagement is a barrier to implementing a training program, the ability to understand data as a second language through a gamification program can play a vital role in creating engaging learning programs. 
  • Build a safe space for collaboration – Consider creating internal communities to support employee learning. Implementing formal training is a great first step, but moving beyond that is important. Businesses can benefit from creating a space where employees can collaborate, share and learn from each other beyond formal training. 

Investing in data skills is worth it

Investing in data skills has certainly been paying off for many organisations. Some of the noticeable benefits have been greater innovation, better customer experiences, smarter decision making, lower costs and higher revenues.

For example, the leading Australian-owned toll road operator and developer Transurban, needed to create a strong data culture to ensure employees were fully equipped with the right skills and confident about making data-driven decisions. With visual analytics, almost half of all Transurban employees have developed the data skills to get greater insights into everything from what’s happening on the roads to accident hotspots and customer behaviour. 

The company’s data culture has been built through investment in the implementation of regular training sessions, external support from a partner and an internal centre of excellence.

When it comes to investing in data skills, the question is no longer about who’s responsible for training employees — it’s about how we accelerate the path to becoming a data-driven organisation. The last two years have made it crystal clear that data-driven insights are essential for organisations to make fast, informed decisions — transforming insights into action.

Businesses need to remember that the most important investment they make is in people. And ultimately, unlocking the true value of data is a team sport. Having team members that are skilled in data and analytics, especially as the volume of data continues to grow exponentially, is what will position organisations for success in an increasingly digital world. 

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Robert Wickham

Robert Wickham

Rob is an experienced Senior Executive & Leader with over 20 years of industry experience. Prior to joining Tableau, Rob held various positions at Salesforce leading Salesforce’s Specialised teams for Platform & Emerging Technologies across Asia Pacific – this includes Lightning Platform, Heroku, Einstein Analytics, Quip & CPQ. Rob also directed Salesforce’s regional program for start-ups.

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