Why Data Literacy?

On this page we’ll discuss what Data Literacy is to many, the importance of reskilling, and why Data Literacy is critical right now.

For such a simple question, the answer is more complicated than it should be

Understanding Data Literacy

To many Data Literacy is:

  • Statistics
  • Data Visualization
  • Data Storytelling
  • Complex Algorithms
  • Data Ingestion

Or any job that works with data, frequently to responsibly translate the story data is telling and make informed decisions. If only Data Literacy were a set of skills a person could acquire, proceed past GO, and collect a well-paying job. The term Data Literacy is oversimplified. While all of these areas are parts of Data Literacy, they are only parts.

The majority of discussions you see today on data literacy are what I call “organizational data literacy.” I tell you this not to diminish its importance but to call attention to it. Data informed decision making is where every business needs to move toward, if they aren’t there already. By acknowledging the distinction of Organizational data literacy, we can admit there are other forms of data literacy as well. Specifically, what I am calling “Individual data literacy.” Generally when we’re talking in terms of organization data literacy, we will refer to “upskilling”.

Individual data literacy is a focus on an individual’s data skills, whether in or out of the workplace. When we discuss individual’s lack of data skills today, this is where we start to discuss reskilling.

Skill-building and Data Literacy

Let’s discuss two different types of skills-building; upskilling and reskilling.

Upskilling: Is building on a set of existing skills. Either through enhancing current abilities or augmented with additional skills. Upskilling is typically the way people grow in their careers, continually maturing existing skills. 

Reskilling: Is building a new set of skills. Typically to support a switch from one career to another. Generally, skills a person has not had previously. Reskilling is what we see when people are in jobs where technology has made them redundant, but still need to work for a living.

Why is understanding the difference between these two types of skill-building important? They represent what we are seeing in the world today and why Data Literacy has become critical. Yes, data skills are essential for current jobs. Additionally, data skills are vital for every person. Especially individuals who have lost their job due to the pandemic, technology has made their position redundant, or a desire to thrive in today’s climate. Indeed, there’s a tipping point between redundant employment and the jobs of the future. The inflection point being technology and its related skills.

By 2025, 44% of the skills that employees will need to perform their roles effectively will change.

World Economic Forum – The Future of Jobs Report 2020

Data Literacy and Critical Mass

 Data Literacy exists because of the velocity of change brought by technology. Historically change in computing power was tracked by Moore’s Law. Yet, Moore himself said:

“(the law) can’t continue forever. It is the nature of exponential functions…they eventually hit a wall.”

Gordon E. Moore

It’s difficult to say if we have reached Critical Mass with technological change skills, although observing current trends feels like we have. According to Scott Galloway in his book Post Corona, we’re in a unique time as far as the workforce goes. Technology accelerated ten years’ worth of innovation into six months in 2020. This acceleration has widened an already sizeable skills gap in the workforce.

Galloway says,

“Some businesses, like the powerful tech monopolies, will thrive as a result of the disruption. Like higher education, other industries will struggle to maintain a value proposition that no longer makes sense when we can’t stand shoulder to shoulder. And the pandemic has accelerated deeper trends in government and society, exposing a widening gap between our vision of America as a land of opportunity, and the troubling realities of our declining wellbeing.”

Scott Galloway, Post Corona

For many of us, we have the luxury of upskilling and acquiring complementary skills throughout our careers. While it’s still crucial for those in technology careers to remain relevant through current skills, we also have an opportunity to increase our advocacy for those who exist external of technology. Technology is starting to shift and change other industries, and reskilling is necessary to help a shifting workforce. The most visible is the service industry in 2020, with 47% of the industries workers at risk for unemployment. In comparison, supply chains thrived as demand grew for goods.