According to a major new study by Qlik, a leader in data analytics, just 17 per cent of workers are data literate – i.e. fully confident in their ability to read, work, analyse and argue with data.

The survey of more than 5,000 European workers found a strong link between job performance and a good grasp of data. Over three quarters of data literates say they are performing very well at work, compared with under half of the wider workforce. And most people who use data in their current job role not only agree that data helps them do their job better (no less than 90 per cent), but that greater data literacy would give them more credibility (70 per cent) in the workplace.

The craved career boost means workers are desperate to dive into data. The majority (65 per cent) said they would be willing to invest more time and energy into improving their data skillset – if given the chance. But many are being held back by their employers. When asked what best describes their thoughts with regards to their current company culture in terms of its data use, just under a quarter said that everyone in their business is empowered and proficient in using data. In addition, 43 per cent do not agree they have had adequate training themselves.

Dan Sommer, Senior Director at Qlik, said: “Data literacy is as important as the ability to read and write. It adds weight to our arguments and helps us to make better decisions. And these skills are just as important in our everyday lives where we are overwhelmed with information in the news and social media. We’re dealing with a huge flood of data, but few have the skills to deal with it. In a post-fact world – full of fake news and data manipulations – it’s critical that we are able to interrogate facts and figures to get to the real truth.”

A greater access to data is urgently needed

The research reveals far from a level playing field when it comes to data use, access and understanding. While the majority (85 per cent) of manual workers say data helps them to perform their job role better, they are the least empowered. Less than half (49 per cent) believe they have access to all the data sets they need to perform their job role to the highest possible standard. Senior execs (79 per cent) are far more likely to agree they have access to all the data sets they need to perform their job role to the highest possible standard, but there is still a worryingly low level of data literacy (24 per cent) among those at the top.

Graduate entry level employees (10.1 per cent) fall just below manual workers (10.2%) when it comes to being data literate, suggesting that Universities are also failing to prepare students with the skills they need to enter the workplace.

Sommer commented: “It doesn’t matter if you’re on the board or a field sales worker – we want data equality for all. This doesn’t just mean equal access, it means making sure that everyone has full confidence to use it to their advantage. The hierarchical approach that currently exists can be broken down through cultural change, which should centre around giving everyone the data, tools and learning to perform well and progress.”

Comparisons per country across Europe

Data use and access varies across Europe. Spain is leading the way with the most data literates (25 per cent), followed by the UK (21 per cent), Sweden (15 per cent), Germany (14 per cent) and France, where just over one in ten (12 per cent) really know what they’re doing with data. Other regional differences include:

  • Spain is not only the most data literate nation, but its workers are the most enthusiastic about improving their data skillset (83 per cent.)
  • Data inequality reigns in the UK, with less than one in five saying everyone in their business is empowered and proficient in using data
  • Information overload remains an issue across Europe: the Swedish are most likely to be drowning in data at work (56 per cent), while the Germans are most likely to be overwhelmed with data in everyday life (86 per cent)
  • Germans are also the most likely to say they are dealing with a higher volume of data in their job than three years ago.
  • The Swedish are most likely to struggle to differentiate between data truths and manipulations (68 per cent)
  • In France, workers are most likely to make decisions on “gut feel” over informed insight (51%)
Sommer continues: “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you live, you have the right to use and access data. But inequality is holding people, businesses and entire countries back. We want to start a movement to make sure everyone has the opportunity to succeed with data, and a revolution which will bring new insights and new abilities.”