Two coworkers discuss data on a laptop.

Training the future workforce for a data-driven society

An educational imperative: Our students must know how to live and work in a world that is dictated by data

Our youth are inheriting the future in real time. Over the past decade alone, the explosion in data, automation, machine learning, and artificial intelligence has completely transformed the way we interact with the world – and it’s only accelerating. In fact, IDC predicts worldwide spending on AI systems alone will grow to nearly $35.8 billion in 2019 and will more than double to $79.2 billion by 2022.

All this means it’s more important than ever that today’s youth — and the newly-emerging workforce — are adequately equipped to work with these evolving technologies. Younger generations will enter a very different job environment than that of their parents, in many cases stepping into roles that may not even yet exist today. We’ll likely see some jobs disappear altogether, while others will evolve and adapt to meet the new climate.

Related content: How higher ed can better prepare students for the workforce

This environment will drive competition for job candidates with unique data-driven mentalities and skill sets. And we’re already seeing a shift. According to LinkedIn data, the top three “hard” skills companies noted needing most in 2019 all surround tech: cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and analytical reasoning.

This is an evolution from last year’s list, which consisted of cloud and distributed computing, statistical analysis and data mining, and middleware and integration software. The pace is extraordinary, where just in one year the skill set needs employers are looking for pivoted significantly.

What’s most alarming is the data suggests young people aren’t being adequately prepared for this data-disrupted workplace. According to the findings of the Qlik Data Literacy Index, just 23.6 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds in the U.S. report being data literate — that is, having the ability to read, work with, analyze and argue with data — and 60 percent of those already say they are overwhelmed by the use of data in their current roles.

Schools and universities have a huge role to play in giving students the tools they need to succeed. Curriculum should be aligned with the skills for the workforce of the future, and should prepare students to work with emerging technologies that include machine learning, predictive analytics and artificial intelligence. This also means equipping the emerging workforce with the confidence to ask the right questions of data and machines, and to consume data and use it to make effective decisions. This can be accomplished through a variety of means, whether it’s a hands-on classroom experience or externships that push students into the real world to work within their field of study.

But this doesn’t have to and shouldn’t all fall on educators. Lifelong learning is quickly becoming the new norm. The evolving workforce across all ages needs to have access to continual upskilling opportunities, even as they develop and extend their careers. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report, “no less than 54 percent of all employees will require significant re- and upskilling” by 2022.

Corporations should feel a sense of responsibility to ensure their employees have an accessible and comprehensive resource to continue their data literacy training. According to our research just 34 percent of firms currently provide data literacy training, and only 17 percent of business leaders report that their company significantly encourages employees to become more comfortable with data.

To change this, we need to see a cohesive effort between the individuals themselves and the private and public sectors. Teachers can inspire students to be passionate about these topics but organizations, public and private, can also invest in creating a more literate society.

It’s becoming abundantly clear that to set young people up to successfully interact with the data and machines that will play an increasingly important role in both our working and daily lives, it’s key that global education systems recognize and adapt to empower today’s students to become data literate. Action must be taken to address the fundamental flaws in the education system and bring learning into the 21st century by introducing data-based education from an early age. Will you be part of the movement?

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