If you know a youngster who’s just about to enter the world of work, the best advice you could give would be to become proficient in data.
That’s the finding from latest report from Alteryx, “Business Grammar”, where we conducted a poll of business leaders across Europe to ask them what skills they prize the most when it comes to hiring new recruits. According to our survey, proficiency in data and analytics is the most in-demand “hard” skill, beating traditionally highly-valued abilities such as multilingualism. The only other qualification that beat data proficiency was relevant experience in the industry.
These are exciting times for information as the “democratisation of data” spreads through our personal and working life. No longer are the dark arts of data analytics confined to the IT or business intelligence department - now employees in potentially any role, from marketing to HR, admin to finance, are expected to make sense of the deluge of data that affects their job.
The scale of this shift can be seen in the research, which found that less than one in six businesses in the UK still leave data analysis solely to an IT or business intelligence team. In fact, a third of business leaders are already empowering business users with self-service analytics tools to help them quickly answer daily business questions.
It’s clear, then, that young people entering the job market - or older workers who want to advance their careers or change roles - should seriously consider equipping themselves with data skills, such as learning to use analytics software. The clincher, perhaps, is that business leaders said that they’d be willing to offer a 30% higher salary to someone who is data proficient over one who isn’t.
Yet before we extoll the forward-looking approach of British businesses, we should point out that UK respondents lagged behind their European counterparts in several of their attitudes to data. For example, business leaders in the UK polled almost lowest (at 55.3%) when it came to the question of whether business decisions needed to be based on data to be effective (compared with France, Germany and The Netherlands who ranked this between 57% to 64%).
What’s more, the UK had the smallest proportion of businesses who entrust decisions about how data is accessed and analysed to individual business units or departments - just under a quarter (24%) compared to 40 per cent in Denmark. By comparison, this decision is made by the IT department in 44 per cent of British businesses.
Finally, nearly four in five (77%) of British business leaders believe that data analytics is so integral to business they should be a compulsory part of all MBA programmes. While this is clearly an endorsement of the value of data proficiency in the higher echelons of business, it doesn’t represent the near-universal agreement of firms in, say, Germany and the Netherlands, which polled at 87% and 88% respectively.
While we pride ourselves on our approach to innovation and technology, it seems that British businesses are more hesitant to embrace the data analytics culture than their European rivals when it comes to data. Why should this be?
One answer could be that it’s a sign of Britain’s unique corporate (and wider) culture. That eternal characterisation of Britain, John Bull, is a bluff, no-nonsense, straightforward man who trusts more to his gut than to the experts - a theme that was (consciously or not) in this year’s EU referendum campaign. Could this “culture of common sense” be a reason why British firms have been more cautious to adapt to the opportunities that data presents?
Whatever the reason, it’s not likely to be an aversion to technology and data. We must remember that Britain has always been at the forefront of the Information Age. We’ve been pioneers in information, from the invention of the Colossus, the world’s first programmable computer, to the invention of the worldwide web, to the government’s Open Data and Freedom of Information initiatives.
What is incontestable in the research is that British business leaders fully appreciate how using data effectively can be transformative in their business, and the great efforts they are making to improve the way that they analyse and apply information to the decisions they make. If there’s a lesson to be learned, it is that good intentions must be turned into reality - and data analysis incorporated into line-of-business activity and decision-making - if UK firms are to stay at the cutting edge of world business.
So, to any youngster, take up the data mantle for a great career path in any industry. And for the not so young, no-one is too old to learn new, powerful skills.
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