Natasha Kumari, a high school history teacher in Patna, has had a tough two years at her day job. Since the pandemic, the school she teaches first moved to a fully online model of teaching and then to a hybrid model, and with that came the need for teachers like Kumari to learn how to work with new digital tools and incorporate charts, maps and infographics into their curriculum.
She also struggled to use the school’s in-house app, which teachers had to use to record attendance, submit reports etc.
Kumari is one amongst many professionals who have struggled to keep up with the rapid digital transformation. According to a survey conducted by business analytics platform Qlik, which was published earlier this month, only 11% of employees in India were confident about their data literacy skills.
Data literacy is the ability to derive meaningful information from data, just as literacy in general is the ability to derive information from the written word. It doesn’t require an individual to be an expert — like a data scientist or analyst — but rather, helps him/her understand what data is appropriate to use for a specific purpose, interpret data visualizations, graphs and charts etc., and use data analytics tools and to recognise what data is misleading.
While Kumari belongs to the education sector, lawyer Ravi Pinto echoed similar concerns as her. After spending his entire career going to courts, he struggled to use electronic courts, submit documents to judges through digital means, etc. without receiving any proper training beforehand. Eventually, he took a short-term legal analytics course in order to catch up.
Despite the importance of data literacy in the hybrid and remote work environment, companies are struggling to train their employees adequately. The Qlik report also showed that only 11-12% of companies are offering training to human resource (HR) and finance teams, while less than 10% provided such training to marketing teams. This is despite more than two-thirds of these employees working in these functions stating that data literacy is absolutely necessary to fulfil their current role.
Alan D. Duncan, distinguished vice president analyst at market research firm Gartner, also estimated that a large number of companies failed to make active investments in data literacy in 2021.
To be sure, companies are aware of the issue as well. According to Varun Babbar, country manager at Qlik India, 85% of C-level executives have acknowledged that being data literate will be as vital in future. He also said that 45% of employees would themselves prefer to change jobs and go to places where they expect to gain more training and guidance.
However, the approach to data literacy is also a problem. In some cases, companies try to fix it using technology, while at other times, the training material provided to employees is not adequate.
“The challenge is that while a range of free-to-access and paid training and courses are now readily accessible in the market, more contextual domain-relevant training is critical to the success of data literacy, without which the data literacy gap would continue to widen,” said Duncan.
“Data literacy is certainly not just a technology challenge. The range of skills and knowledge required is a spectrum of business-oriented and technology-oriented themes. In that sense, a data literate organization is one in which business people and functional employees can embrace and use data in all that they do – making it more of a culture issue than a technology,” he added.
He observed that companies that have successfully initiated formal data literacy training have done so using business-context oriented education and technology solution training, taking into account AI, analytics and other business intelligent tools for better decision making and productivity.
For instance, Mumbai headquartered insurance provider, HDFC Life Insurance Company Limited, has created something called the CARE (Communication, Access to Information, Record Keeping and Education) Framework to cover all bases in data literacy. Francis Rodrigues, Senior Vice President at HDFC Life, said that the company imparted rigorous data literacy training to their employees to serve its customers better.
It’s not the only one either. A human resource manager at a Bengaluru-based advertising firm, who requested that neither he nor his firm be identified, said the company used storytelling techniques to facilitate such training. Which includes consultations, workshops and certifications, and the company spent 6-8% of its overall training budget in data-led skill training in areas of data governance.
According to Babbar, companies have already started increasing their investment in data literacy training as well, and will continue doing so by 49% over the next 12 months.