Tech companies have a data literacy gap

Somewhere along the internal skilling journey, we fell off the data wagon. Here’s why companies need to reinvest in data training.

Man in tie at desk

Only about 40% of employees say they’re provided the data skills they're expected to have on the job.

Photo: Towfiqu Barbhuiya/Unsplash

Tech companies are drowning in data. And chances are, those fancy data analytics platforms they’ve invested in aren’t helping. But don’t blame the tech just yet. According to a recent survey by Tableau and Forrester, there’s a gap between what employees know about data and what employers think their employees know about data.

While 82% of leaders expect all employees to have basic data literacy skills, only about 40% of employees say they’re provided the data skills they're expected to have on the job, according to the survey. The findings signal a persisting dearth of data training within organizations, and because all roads lead back to The Great Resignation, this skills gap could be a reason your valued employees find somewhere else to work. According to the survey, nearly 80% of data-trained employees said they were more likely to stay with their company, and 10 times more likely to voice high satisfaction with their employer.

Decision-makers are twice as likely as employees to say they’re adequately equipping employees with data skills they need, according to the survey, but that training is often confused with simply providing the tools.

“One of the topics that I talk about with a lot of our clients is the difference between purchasing tools and having staff who can handle it,” said Merav Yuravlivker, CEO and co-founder of Data Society, a provider of data-training programs for companies. “Every organization that I know has purchased licenses to specific software platforms that are data analytic platforms. And that's great. That helps enable a lot of folks. But what we've seen in a lot of those organizations is they might buy 100 licenses, and there's maybe five people who actually understand how to use this product effectively.”

It’s a juxtaposition that makes it difficult for an organization to fully leverage the resources it has invested in, she told Protocol. While Yuravlivker has seen a lot of companies invest in the infrastructure (how data is stored, collected, secured and accessed), companies sometimes forget about data literacy, which includes promoting data knowledge across a staff.

“So if you're asking me the question, ‘Why is training being put on the back burner?’ I think it's because it hasn't yet become apparent to a lot of organizations just how much the lack of training really impacts their investment in that type of data infrastructure,” she said.

Mark Nelson, president and CEO of Tableau, views the lack of data literacy and training as a change management issue among organizations, meaning it takes a shift in a company's culture to encourage and support all employees in skilling up on data tools.

“Some people do think this is a technology problem — [you can] roll out the tech and it's all good — and that's not the case. It really is about the human aspect of building a data culture inside of your organization where the organization really expects to use data and is using data,” said Nelson.

He believes a lot of people are still at the beginning of the change management curve in that they’re pouring money into the technology supporting data analytics, but not quite at the point of creating a culture around it that stretches across the business.

“As always, there's lots of pulls on [your budget], but if effectiveness of your organization and retention and development of your people aren't at the top of your goals, you probably have other problems,” said Nelson.

Yuravlivker said oftentimes a new focus on data training is sparked by a changing of the guards, and as The Great Resignation continues, there’s been plenty of guard-changing lately. “A lot of times we get called in when we have, let's say, a new CEO or a new CIO who's been in the organization maybe for less than a year, and [has] come from a data-driven organization and understands the impact that it can have, and now wants to set that up within their own organization,” she said.

For some leaders, it’s also about making sure they don’t get distracted by the hottest new tech training.

“There's always lots of competing priorities, whether that is the shiny object of training in the tech world or just whatever else is going on. But I think as you see the need for this become very clear, the gap becomes very clear,” said Nelson.


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Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at

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