Bridging the digital divide: we need a smarter approach to data literacy and skills

From: techUK
Published: Wed Feb 09 2022

Chris Greenwood, UK Director for NetApp, a leading Cloud-led, data management company, looks at how data skills can bridge the digital divide.

Throughout the entire history of humankind, there has never been an information explosion like the present. Data is all around us, and it's playing a pivotal, ever-growing role in our lives and livelihoods - even if we don't always realise it.

The past year and a half in particular has thrust data into the limelight, with scientists and government officials alike making pandemic-related decisions based on the evidence of data. But it's infiltrated business too, with companies collecting more data than ever before as they race to transform their organisations and adopt data-driven strategies.

Even in our personal lives, much of what we touch now automatically generates data - spurred by the rise of smartphones, sensors, connected vehicles and appliances, among other digital artifacts. Yet, one has to question if we truly understand data and how best to wield it, which becomes ever more pressing in the wake of the looming digital skills shortage.

Unavoidable misadventure or preventable disaster?

Back in March, the Learning & Work Institute warned of an impending catastrophic digital skills shortage disaster' in the UK, with its findings that the number of young people taking IT subjects at GCSE has dropped 40% since 2015. Meanwhile, the demand for AI, cloud and robotics skills is soaring, according to Accenture.

The result is a talent gap that's widening every day. Which, according to Dr Neil Bentley-Gockmann, CEO at WorldSkills UK, has been accelerated by a lack of clearly-defined job roles, a lack of guidance about potential career paths, a lack of relatable role models, and a failure to make technical professions seem appealing to young people, especially young women.

What's more, the Learning & Work Institute's research reveals that 70% of young people expect employers to invest in teaching them digital skills on the job. However, only half of the employers surveyed are able to provide that training - leading us to believe this disaster could have been avoided, albeit not easily. But it's no good dwelling on the past.

Experts across the board say digital skills are vital to economic recovery, post-pandemic. And with the growing dependence on data, upskilling to maximise its potential and drive informed decision making will be essential to every organisation. In response, urgent action is required - as we need a smarter approach to address data illiteracy and digital skills shortages.

Below, I've outlined five vital steps to help you get smart and close your data literacy skills gap.

1. Data literacy starts from the top

Rather than attempting to establish a data-driven culture from the bottom-up, business leaders first need to understand the state of data in their organisations, and exactly how employees work with data. Only then can leaders identify where best to invest their resources, before outlining clear expectations where everyone knows their role, and how to arrive at the same desired data destination.

2. Equip employees for data-driven working

Data literacy simply isn't possible if employees can't access the right data. So, data must be democratised and decentralised - which is once again up to business leaders. But beyond providing access to data, workforces must also be provided with the right tools, processes and methodologies that adhere to pre-defined best practices and enables them to access data as required to meet business goals. Complete with insights that can be easily consumed.

3. Empowering future generations

Supporting data literacy is a problem that requires immediate action, but short term solutions won't keep the skills gap closed. Business leaders must begin empowering future generations to discover and develop critical data skills, elevating learning experiences of today that are failing to support data literacy. NetApp's Data Explorers is one such initiative on a mission to address this, with an inherent focus on educating students in underserved communities.

4. Lower data literacy barriers with AI

Educating and upskilling employees is vital to improving data literacy - but they needn't go it alone. AI can be a powerful tool to help employees better interpret, wield and gain meaningful data insights, especially when working with larger, more variable information sets that simply can't be processed by the human brain. By doing so - and driving better decision making and streamlining processes - this can also lower data literacy barriers and ultimately make related, essential roles more appealing to the masses.

5. Employee upskilling (and evolution)

Finally, the most powerful asset in creating value from data is your people. Education and empowerment will be the true determining success factors in a data-literate world. So, upskilling with training that's baked into learning and development initiatives is key and must never become a tick-box exercise. But as the digital and data landscape continues to evolve, with no endgame in sight, the ability of employees must also evolve to equip them with the knowhow and confidence to remain ahead of the curve and seize the opportunities that can be found in data.

By following the above steps, you'll be well on your way to embracing a smarter approach to data literacy and digital skills. However, that's not to say the road ahead won't be without its bumps - and we all must play our part if we're to truly bridge the divide and realise a data-driven future for generations to come.

To learn more about digital literacy and accelerating your own data-driven future, visit Data Management Solutions for the Cloud | NetApp

Company: techUK

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