Equipping students with essential data skills to meet business demand

Digital skills such as data literacy are increasingly sought-after and help protect students from being digitally displaced from future jobs

In recent years, there has been a growing need for universities to narrow the gap between the skills students acquire while studying and what businesses expect. For employers, finding the right people with essential digital and data skills is challenging. Universities must sit up and take notice of what businesses now demand and ensure students have opportunities to develop these skills no matter what their chosen degree.

Currently, just 17 percent of UK employees are data literate. If universities want to set graduates, who are entering an incredibly challenging job market, up to be as employable as possible, they need to address business demand and equip students with skills that will enable them to succeed in the workplace. Teaching essential skills for the modern workplace, like data literacy, has become imperative and is something we’re putting more weight on in Worcester Business School at the University of Worcester. I’d recommend this as an area other higher education institutions ought invest in too.

Improving career marketability

Universities have a responsibility to assess business demand for skills and ensure they have opportunities available for students as part of their chosen degree, developing the competencies that businesses are looking for to give them the best chance of success after completing their education.

The explosive growth of big data and an increasing recognition of the value of data to inform better decision-making meant that we needed to ensure we were offering students a course that allowed them to develop these skills and improve their marketability. We wanted to offer learners the ability to gain real-world, hands-on experience with software they would likely encounter in their professional lives.

To achieve this, and equip students with the essential data literacy skills that will help them exceed the growing business demand, we introduced the Qlik Academic Program. The course allows students to go beyond theory and develop workplace-ready skills by introducing them to the value of data and the techniques used to analyse it to inform decision-making. Students work with and complete their assessments with commercial software that many are likely to encounter in a business environment.

We ensure that we make this module relevant to students’ chosen career pathway by asking them to find a data set that is of interest to them and has some relevance to their chosen degree to complete their end-of-course assessment. Topics that have been chosen vary from analysis on how Birmingham City Football Club can maximise ticket revenues, to how brands like BP and Starbucks can better use company data to drive business decisions. We don’t want to only close the data literacy skills gap for our students, we also want them to go into their future workplaces and be ambassadors for more informed, data-driven decision-making practices we know are appreciated by employers.

The future of work will be digital

With businesses around the world shifting to remote working this year, many employees have had to adapt to an entirely online working environment and are engaging with more digital collaboration tools more than ever before. That’s why one additional – and unexpected – benefit of the Qlik Academic Program that we ran this year was providing our students with the ability to use enterprise software that would help them learn how to collaborate and present remotely.

Using the Qlik Sense platform, our students were able to record presentations and, thanks to the Storytelling function, present their visualisations to the tutors where they could dive directly back into the data when immediate questions arose. Getting the experience of using enterprise software in this way and presenting their findings remotely will serve them in great stead as they enter the workforce; particularly as many predict the now distributed workforce trend is set to stay!

Setting graduates up for the future of work

Despite the uncertainty we face entering the 2020/2021 academic year, we know that improving digital and data skills of students is going to be an important factor in their employability after graduating. As we look toward the future of work, it’s clear that every industry will become increasingly reliant on data for decision-making, and it’s no surprise that 63 percent of large global businesses plan on increasing the data literacy of their employees.

We must equip students with the skills and knowledge to increase their career marketability through experience of data, which in turn will help them demonstrate to employers that they have the skills that will make a true impact. Universities across the country should take note of the skills businesses look for and ensure students have the opportunity to develop them as part of their higher education; and indeed, lifelong learning.

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