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.


How I decided to leave the US and pursue a tech career in Europe

Melissa Di Donato moved to Europe to broaden her technology experience with a different market perspective. She planned to stay two years. Seventeen years later, she remains in London as CEO of Suse.

“It was a hard go for me in the beginning. I was entering inside of a company that had been very traditional in a sense.”

Photo: Suse

Click banner image for more How I decided seriesA native New Yorker, Melissa Di Donato made a life-changing decision back in 2005 when she packed up for Europe to further her career in technology. Then with IBM, she made London her new home base.

Today, Di Donato is CEO of Germany’s Suse, now a 30-year-old, open-source enterprise software company that specializes in Linux operating systems, container management, storage, and edge computing. As the company’s first female leader, she has led Suse through the coronavirus pandemic, a 2021 IPO on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, and the acquisitions of Kubernetes management startup Rancher Labs and container security company NeuVector.

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Sponsored Content

Great products are built on strong patents

Experts say robust intellectual property protection is essential to ensure the long-term R&D required to innovate and maintain America's technology leadership.

Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.

From 5G to artificial intelligence, IP protection offers a powerful incentive for researchers to create ground-breaking products, and governmental leaders say its protection is an essential part of maintaining US technology leadership. To quote Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo: "intellectual property protection is vital for American innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Keep Reading Show less
James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.

UiPath had a rocky few years. Rob Enslin wants to turn it around.

Protocol caught up with Enslin, named earlier this year as UiPath’s co-CEO, to discuss why he left Google Cloud, the untapped potential of robotic-process automation, and how he plans to lead alongside founder Daniel Dines.

Rob Enslin, UiPath's co-CEO, chats with Protocol about the company's future.

Photo: UiPath

UiPath has had a shaky history.

The company, which helps companies automate business processes, went public in 2021 at a valuation of more than $30 billion, but now the company’s market capitalization is only around $7 billion. To add insult to injury, UiPath laid off 5% of its staff in June and then lowered its full-year guidance for fiscal year 2023 just months later, tanking its stock by 15%.

Keep Reading Show less
Aisha Counts

Aisha Counts (@aishacounts) is a reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software. Formerly, she was a management consultant for EY. She's based in Los Angeles and can be reached at


Figma CPO: We can do more with Adobe

Yuhki Yamashita thinks Figma might tackle video or 3D objects someday.

Figman CPO Yuhki Yamashita told Protocol about Adobe's acquisition of the company.

Photo: Figma

Figma CPO Yuhki Yamashita’s first design gig was at The Harvard Crimson, waiting for writers to file their stories so he could lay them out in Adobe InDesign. Given his interest in computer science, pursuing UX design became the clear move. He worked on Outlook at Microsoft, YouTube at Google, and user experience at Uber, where he was a very early user of Figma. In 2019, he became a VP of product at Figma; this past June, he became CPO.

“Design has been really near and dear to my heart, which is why when this opportunity came along to join Figma and rethink design, it was such an obvious opportunity,” Yamashita said.

Keep Reading Show less
Lizzy Lawrence

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


Microsoft lays out its climate advocacy goals

The tech giant has staked out exactly what kind of policies it will support to decarbonize the world and clean up the grid.

Microsoft published two briefs explaining what new climate policies it will advocate for.

Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

The tech industry has no shortage of climate goals, but they’ll be very hard to achieve without the help of sound public policy.

Microsoft published two new briefs on Sept. 22 explaining what policies it will advocate for in the realm of reducing carbon and cleaning up the grid. With policymakers in the U.S. and around the world beginning to weigh more stringent climate policies (or in the U.S.’s case, any serious climate policies at all), the briefs will offer a measuring stick for whether Microsoft is living up to its ideals.

Keep Reading Show less
Brian Kahn

Brian ( @blkahn) is Protocol's climate editor. Previously, he was the managing editor and founding senior writer at Earther, Gizmodo's climate site, where he covered everything from the weather to Big Oil's influence on politics. He also reported for Climate Central and the Wall Street Journal. In the even more distant past, he led sleigh rides to visit a herd of 7,000 elk and boat tours on the deepest lake in the U.S.

Latest Stories