Data Analytics, Insight, Learning & Development

3 key takeaways from the National Data Strategy, and what this means for your learning & development

14 October 2021

In May 2021, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport developed the National Data Strategy. In this article, we explore the three key takeaways for your organisation's talent strategy when it comes to data.

New data regulations brought about by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit, and the infiltration of digital into all aspects of our lives has resulted in significant uncertainty and disruption for UK businesses. But often, change is needed.

When we look at digital competitiveness, the UK lags behind many of its OECD neighbours, including the USA, Denmark and The Netherlands. The 2020 IMD World Digital Competitiveness Ranking evaluates the ability and readiness of  economies to adopt digital technologies for economic growth – and the UK is currently ranked 13th.

In response to this, in May 2021 the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport developed their National Data Strategy (NDS). The report outlines how the UK can become a world-leading data economy through helping organisations drive digital transformation, increase innovation and boost growth across the public, private and third-sector.

Former Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden explains: “Our new National Data Strategy will maintain the high watermark of data use set during the pandemic - freeing up businesses, government and organisations to innovate, experiment and drive a new era of growth.”

What does this mean for your learning and development strategy?

Data shouldn’t be feared. If businesses utilise their data correctly, it has the potential to not only increase company profits, but the GDP of the entire UK economy. DataIQ states that the value of the UK data economy is currently £73 billion – but the potential is far higher. For the UK to be a data leader, businesses need to focus on training their employees to become data literate. This article will outline 3 key takeaways from the NDS and what it means for your learning and development strategy.

Takeaway 1: There's no widely agreed definition of data skills - it varies across businesses

The NDS report highlights that there is currently no agreed upon definition of data skills across organisations. While different companies have distinct needs, there is a need to define the difference between basic data literacy and technical data skills.

Basic data skills involve:

  • having some working knowledge of data
  • the capability to evaluate the quality of data
  • the skills to conduct basic analysis.

Technical skills, on the other hand, involve:

  • programming
  • data visualisation and analysis
  • database management

For companies to be active players in the economy and have a competitive edge, a wide range of basic and technical skills are needed. It’s not just about having a few data scientists, but rather, a group of employees who hold both basic data literate and technical capabilities.

Who is a data professional?

Everybody in an organisation who has access to data, business intelligence and management information can be described as a data professional. This community spans business functions, roles and levels of seniority. In most organisations, the data analytics community can be visualized as a pyramid - the higher up the pyramid, the greater the level of expertise in using data.

It’s important to identify a bespoke training approach for your organisation. The problem is not just skills classification, but how to fit training requirements to business needs. This can be achieved through creating clarity and consistency in job descriptions and conducting an internal data skills audit to identify the missing skills.

Takeaway 2: An increasing number of jobs require data skills - but not enough people have these skills

We know the UK is in the midst of a severe digital skills gap. Data shows that 53% of the working population do not have the essential digital skills needed for the workplace, and this is predicted to rise to 66% by 2030. The Open University reports that nine out of 10 UK-based organisations are experiencing a data-related skills shortage, and a recent report by the Learning and Work Institute revealed that whilst basic digital skills are now a requirement in almost every job, many organisations say their current workforce does not meet the standards. Take into account that more than half of today's Fortune 500 companies are over 100 years old and the need to prioritise digital transformation becomes even more stark.

A study by Qilk and Accenture estimates that the digital skills shortage is costing UK companies an astounding £10bn annually in lost productivity. Organisations that are slow to close this skills gap risk affecting their wider workforce, with an estimated 52% of organisations believing that skills shortages lead to an increase in workload for existing staff (British Chambers of Commerce). This talent deficiency means that there’s a lack of candidates who have the essential competencies for the modern workforce.

While companies are struggling to fill these roles, there are opportunities to maximise the talent they already have by upskilling their existing workforce. The dangers of not upskilling means that people can get left behind – and your existing talent will leave your organisation.

Takeaway 3: It's important to embed a data culture within your organisation

Your business needs data professionals and employees who have experience and understanding of data analytics. You need people who can confidently utilise your data and ensure it isn’t left unmined and useless to the business. Hiring data science experts is hugely valuable but comes at a great cost and even large corporates are limited to a relatively small data team. Taking the lead in driving data skills development across your organisation is fast becoming a critical focus for Talent and L&D teams.

The World Economic Forum’s Future for Jobs Report 2020 found 73% of organisations will provide reskilling or upskilling opportunities for their employees by 2025. A lot of reskilling will be in data analytics, as it’s become so integral to business operations. A data-led workplace culture ensures all employees have the basic prerequisite skills to make the most of all the data they handle. Of course, data analysts and scientists have the skillset to make the most of data and transform it into valuable information. However, a good knowledge of the value and importance of data should be standardised across the workplace.

What this means for your organisation

It’s clear that the problem of data skills within UK businesses isn’t going away – but there is a way out. The “Quantifying the UK Data Skills Gap” report by the DCMS found that 61% of senior leaders saw the apprenticeship levy as a key route to closing the data skills gap over the next three years.

Data is currently a wasted asset as organisations are sitting on tonnes of unused data – your organisation could be sitting on a data goldmine. By training and reskilling your employees, you will be able to better maximise it. Your competition is doing it – so why aren’t you?

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