October 3, 2022

We live in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (or “Industry 4.0”), a revolution defined by wave after wave of new technologies that combine the physical and digital worlds. You’ve no doubt noticed a large number of “smart” physical devices – everything from watches to speakers to refrigerators – now connected to the Internet. This is Industry 4.0 in progress. And it’s all backed by data. Data is the fuel that fuels this new era of continuous technological breakthroughs.

As such, data is now a valuable trading asset. This means that data literacy – the basic ability to understand and use data – is a vital workplace skill for people in all types of roles. In other words, organizations large and small will need individuals who know data and can work confidently with data.

In an average business context, knowledge of data generally means the ability to:

Access to the right data – as in knowing how and where to access the data needed to do your job and make informed decisions.

Working with data – which may include data generation, data collection, data management to ensure it stays up-to-date, and of course maintaining data security.

Find meaning in numbers – I’m not talking about being an expert data scientist. Instead, this is all about understanding what the data is telling you, typically using business analytics tools to uncover insights from the data and identify business opportunities.

Communicate these insights to others at work – If you want to turn insights into action, you must be able to communicate key messages from the data to decision makers within the company.

One study by Accenture highlights the stark reality of data literacy in the business world; While 75 percent of C Suite executives believe that all or most of their employees have the ability to work with data efficiently, only 21 percent of employees (Across a variety of roles) They were already confident in their data knowledge skills. There is clearly something wrong here.

The good news is that there are many ways in which you as an individual can enhance your data literacy skills. Here are eight steps to get started:

1. First thing, if your business owner doesn’t have a data literacy training program (and in fact, these days, every business should), encourage them to create one. This article is on Why knowing data is important for every business It will help you make a compelling case for enterprise-wide data literacy training.

2. If organizational training isn’t an option, there are also many online courses that will help you navigate data – covering everything from basic data skills to advanced machine learning skills. A good starting point is to check out educational platforms like Coursera and Udemy, as well as excellent learning resources from Data Literacy Project. You’ll also find specific data literacy courses for various industries, such as healthcare (Coursera, for example, has a course in healthcare data literacy).

3. I would also recommend taking a basic course in statistics, as this will help you understand the foundations of data and analytics, and a basic data visualization course, as this will help you to communicate insights from data to others at work.

4. In the meantime, get comfortable with data by delving into your company’s data sets (using any management dashboards or business intelligence tools your company has). Just dive in and navigate – for example, pull different different reports for different time periods. And if you don’t have access to the data in your turn, ask for it.

5. Find a router. This doesn’t have to be a data specialist (although if you can make friends with a data scientist within your organization, go for it!) – someone confident can dig into company reporting systems and use numbers to back up decision-making. A person bases his actions on solid information, not just feelings.

6. If you are concerned about data or simply “not a numbers person,” try to focus on the benefits of using data in your role. For example, data can help you understand your target audience, identify market gaps, make better decisions, support your presentations with hard facts, and impress your superiors.

7. Following data blindly is never a good idea, so learn to wonder what data you’re working with. Good questions to ask include “Where does this data come from?” “Is this data correct?” and “Is the data biased?” There are many great – and disturbing – examples of data bias and artificial intelligence, and I highly recommend reading the topic. This will help you question your company’s data and ensure that decisions are made based on accurate and fair data.

8. Finally, don’t let fear or hesitation about data stop you from becoming a data literate. I get this data makes a lot of people anxious, but knowing the data will be one of the most valuable skills in the workplaces of the future, and burying your head in the sand won’t change that. So find a way to get rid of the fear of data and treat it as a normal part of your work life. Some people like to do this by reading whatever they can get their hands on so that the topic becomes natural. Others prefer to dive and learn on the go. The important thing is not to let fear or hesitation hold you back. It’s just data!

Read more about data literacy and other essential skills in my new book, Future Skills: The 20 Skills and Competencies Everyone Needs to Succeed in a Digital World. Written for anyone who wants to surf the wave of digital transformation – rather than drown in it – the book explores why these vital future skills are important, and how to develop them.

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