The data dilemma facing Australia: The state of data literacy

Right now, we’re on the cusp of another revolution, focused on digital technologies and data

The world as we know it has been characterised by a series of revolutions and inventions, that have changed how we live and work – assembly line, automobiles, airplanes, personal computers, the internet, social media, IoT, the list goes on.

Right now, we’re on the cusp of another revolution, focused on digital technologies and data, which was unfathomable just a few years ago. Day-to-day we hear a number of common phrases like “Big Data” and “Artificial Intelligence” that are a result of this revolution. With so many things being described as “data” or “data-driven”, it is hard to find an organisation today where it’s not top of mind.

The current state of data, and data literacy, at work

As data grows faster and faster, the ability for companies to drive amazing insights from data analysis has also accelerated. With all this new data and the desire to be data-driven, there’s only one thing missing: the proper skill-set to fully utilise data.

In Qlik’s recent survey on data literacy across Asia Pacific (APAC), it was found that only one in five workers in Australia feel confident in their data literacy skills (i.e. their ability to read, work with, analyse, and argue with data) despite growing pressure to use data within the workplace. That leaves a tremendous gap of those who do not feel data literate: 80% of the working population.

Now, we don’t all need to be data scientists, but we do all need to be data literate. Through the survey, we gained some interesting insight into the mind-sets of individuals dealing with data. For example, it found that over one third of those surveyed in Australia are overwhelmed in their current job when reading, working with, analysing, and arguing with data. Given the vast amount of data being created today, and the growing need for organisations to be successful with that data, the high number of individuals who feel overwhelmed by data must be a strong wake-up call for organisations to start to build the right culture and training for workers to become data literate.

The missed opportunities in data

Another alarming finding of the survey was over 40% of respondents said they frequently make decisions based on “gut feel” over informed insight. When you combine that number with the fact that 65% of workers said they’re dealing with a higher volume of data in their job roles than three years ago, we can see the large gap that exists in data literacy. It’s evident that many employees are still utilising gut feel over the findings of their, demonstrating that data is an under-utilised resource. This is a worrying trend as we move towards a data-driven future.

The research also revealed a lack of support for those who are willing to learn, with not enough being done to support workers with training and education initiatives that accelerate data literacy skills. In Australia, just 25% of workers believe everyone in their organisation is empowered to use data and are data literate, and only 18% strongly believe they have had adequate training to be data literate. However, the majority (66%) of full time workers said they would be willing to invest more time and energy in improving their data literacy skills, if given the chance.

Workers across Australia are not being empowered with these essential skills, at least not by their employers. On the one hand, expectations are up: employees must use more data, day-to-day, than they ever have before. On the other hand, employers are not providing the training needed to succeed. Both employers and employees need to take ownership and be more proactive in bridging this skills gap. 

We’ve completed data literacy surveys across the world, and overall, the findings show that there is a large skills-gap within data literacy. We have seen great investments throughout the years in tools and technology, now it’s time to ensure we make investments in the human side of things, in data literacy.   

Paul Mclean is the data literacy lead - APAC at Qlik.


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