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How to Build a World-Class Data & AI Capability

As the realm of data & AI evolves at increasing scale and pace and has a greater transformative impact on the way we work, organisations face a significant problem – how to bridge the digital skills gap. The growing disparity between the skills employees possess and the skills required in the modern workplace, is impacting competitiveness, innovation and overall growth. This stops companies from fully leveraging digital tools, platforms and emerging technologies and limits their ability to adapt to changing market dynamics. 

The talent shortage can seem overwhelming and the digital skills gap could reach a peak in the UK by 2030, whilst at the same time over 70% of organisations predict their investments in data and analytics continue to accelerate. It might seem beyond the scope of individual businesses, with less than half of HR professionals believing that they are “tech-savvy” enough to make the correct hiring decisions, but there are steps that every business can be taking to build capability within their team. As most organisations plan to be data-driven, but find talent acquisition challenging, what should business leaders be investing in and what sort of skills will make the step changes their organisation needs?

Build an organisation where data is a Strategic Asset 

Recognise that data professionals  are important, but have maximum impact if their expertise is democratised across the organisation and their insights are operationalised at scale. 

Data scientists who have spent years in further education obviously have a significant role, but so too do individuals trained in the basics of data literacy and analysis, particularly if they have the skills to frame business problems as problems that can be solved through data.  Businesses will operate more effectively if data skills are federated throughout the organisation. This improves resilience, removes the risk of single points of failure should employees leave or be unavailable, and will increase efficiency by tackling bottlenecks.

Building data literacy skills amongst business professionals, empowers them to understand insights they are being shown, which in turn breaks down misconceptions around data and builds belief in the organisation’s data strategy. Put simply, for maximum impact, everybody needs to understand the language of data.

Your existing workforce is critical to success

Data skills are in growing demand. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics project a growth rate of nearly 28% in the number of jobs requiring data science skills by 2026, including roles that aren’t traditionally data-driven. Despite the fact that data is increasingly the lifeblood of business, currently only 5% of organisations consider themselves fully data-literate, according to a survey by US learning platform Datacamp. Some assume that there is a point where it’s simply too late to master new data skills, and overlook a powerful resource: the existing workforce.  

Many organisations are already reskilling existing staff into data roles, or training new staff on the job. Learners can gain work-ready data skills, taught in a virtual setting whilst they are still employed. This means there is limited cost in time and money, just a low-risk learning environment where team members can upskill or reskill regardless of their previous knowledge level, thereby future-proofing their career.

Getting the team on board

Building data capability among the wider team may face internal challenges. A survey by Exasol found that, “Two-thirds of data teams have experienced resistance to adaptation of data-driven methods across organizations”. The value of data skills needs to be clearly communicated, but the approach taken is also important. So where should you start when looking to implement a program to upskill your team? Firstly, it is important to understand that there is no universal approach. Every person will have different career ambitions, potential exposure to AI and expertise required in their role. 

Organisations can begin the process of identifying specific areas of the skills gap to target by auditing the team and uncovering the expertise that the business already possesses, then marrying this with their commercial strategy to identify gaps. From there it will be possible to establish which skills, teams or individuals to prioritise, whilst simultaneously demonstrating a positive culture of investment in employees, helping them to feel valued and engaged. An ideal upskilling strategy will then make use of the different formats available to create a program that is personalised to the needs of the business and its team. Everyone should be able to learn in the style, time and format that suits them best, which can be fully digital, in-person or a blended model of these modalities.