Data is supposed to be the bedrock of digital transformation, unlocking insights, efficiencies and even new business models. But new research suggests most Australian workers are not even able to utilise data, let alone generate additional value from it.

Research from the Data Literacy Project – a joint initiative between analytics provider Qlik and consultancy Accenture, among other businesses, to promote data literacy – found only 20 per cent of the Australian working population is confident in their data literacy skills, a similar finding to Qlik’s research a year ago.

Australia’s 20 per cent data literacy rate compares favourably to the European countries surveyed but trails the US (28 per cent) and is well behind global leader India (46 per cent) which reports much higher levels of data training in mainstream education.

The lack of data skills in Australia appears to be causing frustration and costing resources. The report, which surveyed 9,000 employees, including 1,000 Australians, claims the time lost to data struggles and procrastination is more than five working days a year for an organisation.

Source: The Human Impact of Data Literacy.

This equates to $13.9 billion dollars in lost productivity each year, according to the report, The Human Impact of Data Literacy.

A big part of the problem, according to the research, is that businesses have tended to apply data projects in a targeted way with only some employees trained adequately. And when other workers try to access data projects they quickly become frustrated.

According to the report, 72 per cent of Australian employees report feeling overwhelmed or unhappy when working with data, leading to 47 per cent frequently deferring to “gut feel” when making decisions.

31 per cent of the Australian employees surveyed reported taking at least one day of sick leave due to stress resulting from technology and data issues.

“Despite recognising the integral value of data to the success of their business, most firms are still struggling to build teams that can actually bring that value to life,” said Jordan Morrow, global head of data literacy at Qlik and chair of the Data Literacy Project advisory board.

“There has been a focus on giving employees self-service access to data, rather than building individuals’ self-sufficiency to work with it. Yet, expecting employees to work with data without providing the right training or appropriate tools is a bit like going fishing without the rods, bait or nets – you may have led them to water but you aren’t helping them to catch a fish.”

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