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Lex Pedersen


UK Country Manager

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Why data skills are at the cutting edge of learning

In a volatile market, data is what makes the world go round. Neglect these skills at your peril.

With higher education producing thousands of talented, eager individuals each year, there is no shortage of skilled graduates joining the workforce. The job market may be more competitive than ever, but organisations looking to secure a share of the next generation of top talent must think tactically. Savvy employees – and prospective hires – know that professional development and learning is essential for climbing the career ladder, and they’re increasingly making employment decisions based on the learning programmes an organisation can offer.

With a multitude of training options out there, from soft skills to technical skills, in teams or one-to-one, assessing the best decision takes time, and changes take longer still. So, what is it that causes an organisation to revaluate its learning programmes?

Labelled the ‘new oil’ because of its value to businesses, data is what provides a competitive edge. 

There has to be an inflection point or a breakthrough in an industry that forces the need for a new skill to be developed en mass, or a shift in business priorities that involves new technology or processes, for example. At the moment we are seeing a different kind of inflection point, one that forces businesses to pivot for survival, but also to embrace a rapidly changing world that requires new and different skills from many people.

Whether this is the healthcare industry that is being overwhelmed with testing data, or large financial institutions that have lagged behind in digital capabilities, many organisations are now faced with the need to reskill or upskill employees.

While this may feel like a time to tighten the budget belt, in reality it is also a time to invest wisely. Businesses that invest in their people, their future and their success, will ultimately see it repaid in business growth. This is one way to come out of the current climate stronger and ready to meet new challenges.

The decision about where to initially focus efforts can feel daunting, but one thing that every organisation has at its fingertips – and likely isn’t using enough – is data. Start there.

The rising value of data

For a long time, data science sounded like a mystic art form that happened behind the scenes and was too complex for most people. In the last couple of years, however, data has come into its own. Labelled the ‘new oil’ because of its value to businesses, data is what provides a competitive edge. It enables companies to understand customer needs and wants, and can predict the success of every product launch and communication plan.

Data is growing exponentially. It is being produced at an unprecedented velocity. Think about the speed at which the medical industry is receiving Covid-19 tests. This data has to be processed, stored and ultimately used to track progress of the disease. This leads to a huge volume of data that has to be ingested and analysed. There is also a large variety of data – it comes in all shapes and sizes, formats and file types. Tracing this disease has been a lesson in using data (or not in some cases), but it has also shown how powerful it can be when harnessed in the right way. It can drive policy, inform millions and help to create plans to get a country moving again.

This same principle can be applied to the data that all organisations use, whether this is customer data, or usage data, global market data or buying patterns of large enterprises. It will continue to increase in velocity, volume and variety, so organisations must be ready.

Cue the experts

Data scientists are part mathematician, part computer scientist and part trend-spotter. They straddle both the business and IT worlds as they use their technical prowess to solve complex business problems.

As of 2019, the demand for data scientists had tripled over five years (+231%), and there is no sign of slowing down in 2020. Google searches for ‘data science’ have quadrupled, and it has been ranked by experts as one of the top ten best jobs in America each year since 2015.

A report conducted by The Royal Society, The Dynamics of Data Science Skills, looking at the current demand for data professionals and areas for action to meet the demand. While ensuring the education system is providing all young people with data science knowledge and skills is important, another key area for action is advancing professional skills and nurturing talent.

Finding the potential data scientist amongst your ranks is a great way to meet the demand. Once you have done this, you must invest in the right training and learning to make sure this potential is supported and realised.

Putting their money where their mouth is

Although it may seem counterintuitive to make spending commitments for new training in the current climate, companies should look ahead to the long-term benefits of such investments. Learning and development have a proven return on investment. Embracing learning while employees are working from home is an opportunity to see how learning is executed. Whole day training sessions in cramped, windowless rooms are no longer feasible, and nor are they the most cost effective or engaging form of learning.

In a data driven – and now distanced – world, employees need learning that comes to them. Learning platforms provide the training employees need at the moment they need it. Access to instantaneous knowledge allows employees to quickly learn essentials to enable problem solving and task progression. In addition, they provide practice environments where skills can be tested without the possibility of damaging anything in the live network.

Businesses plans may be fluid at the moment as leadership try to put their best foot forward and prepare for the unpredictable. There is one thing we know for sure, however – going forward, the significance of data will only increase. To be ready and ensure they’re moving in the right direction, organisations need to provide the right skills and learning opportunities. Data literacy is key. After all, knowledge is power.

Key takeaways

For organisations looking to embed a training platform that will enable proactive learning and data skills development, here are some key considerations:

  • Create a culture of learning: Knowledge is the best investment. Instilling an ethos of continuous improvement and learning will make for a resilient and capable team. 
  • Know your employees: training platforms should be accessible across abilities and knowledge levels, so understanding employees’ skills is essential.
  • Align with digital transformation plans: when business priorities change, reskilling is critical. The changing needs of an organisation should influence the type of skills training provided. 
  • Timing is everything: changes and upskilling programmes should be implemented early to give employees ample opportunity to learn and develop. What skills will employees need in 6 months, a year, 5 years from now?

Interested in this topic? Read L&D’s time to shine: how to influence the c-suite and deliver business value.

Author Profile Picture
Lex Pedersen

UK Country Manager

Read more from Lex Pedersen

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