Apprenticeship Levy, Data Analytics

The Data Skills Gap, hindering organisations from becoming data-driven

23 June 2020 by Isla Lightfoot

Now, more than ever, organisations have to maximise their impact and productivity. Achieving this involves the pursuit of data-driven decision-making. Data helps companies find insights, new customers and change behaviours. This translates into more product sales to the right people, and increased efficiencies.  

There are countless examples of companies who have adopted a data-driven approach to address flatlining sales and decreasing profitability. Target, the retailer, suffered from flat in-store sales in the mid-2010’s. The retailer decided to go deep into data science and data engineering capabilities in discrete smaller opportunities, such as improving on-shelf availability of merchandise, reducing inventory, and improving operating efficiency. The result was a big boost in profitability for the entire organisation. 

To make data-driven decisions, a basic level of handling, understanding and communicating with data, is required across companies. There is currently a void, often referred to as the ‘data skills gap’, between a few expert data scientists and analysts within a business, and the managers on the ground delivering projects and initiatives, because a lack of understanding results in insights not being acted on, or interpreted badly. These managers require the tools to effectively interpret and use data to make strategic decisions at an operational level. 

When questioned, managers from across a range of industries felt that they were lacking some consistent skills:  

  1. The ability to interpret data analysis and understand its impact in relation to their role and area of responsibility.  
  2. The ability to challenge the analysis, spot outliers and understand the significance of the data. 
  3. Have the confidence to effectively communicate the insights gained from data analysis, to a range of stakeholders. Managers all felt that, because they didn’t fully understand what they were seeing or how the insights were derived, they couldn’t adequately communicate, defend, or justify them. 
  4. The ability to make decisions based on complex data.  
  5. Feel able to work with technical experts to shape the analysis, so that it can be used to benefit business outcomes. 

Research from Accenture indicates that only 20% of all employees said they felt confident working with data. This lack of confidence prevents those employees from using the data to inform their decisions, with half of all employees stating they tended to rely on gut-feel rather than through evidence-driven insights. 

This skills gap is estimated to cost £10bn in lost productivity each year. 

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