The survey, commissioned by software company Qlik, polled more than 5,000 full-time workers across the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region. It found a lack of data literacy across all regions and work levels.

This is concerning for business leaders because the essence of data literacy is deriving value from data. There is little value in a business collecting data that it cannot understand, communicate or use to guide decision making.

There is little value in a business collecting data that it cannot understand, communicate or use to guide decision making.

Only 20% of respondents classified themselves as data literate, defined in the survey as “the ability to work, read, analyse and challenge data”.

The report also found a strong correlation between data literacy and work performance.

A large proportion (86%) of data literate employees said they were performing very well at work. This was in contrast to just 44% of non-data literate participants who responded with the same level of performance.

Fast facts:
India reported the highest levels of data literacy – 45% which is well above the regional average of 20%. Among C-suite staff in India, 64% reported confidence in their data literacy levels.

Of those surveyed, 90% felt that data helps them do their job better and 72% agreed that being data literate would make them more valuable in the workplace.

Among C-suite staff, 81% agreed that they had good access to data, but only 33% reported they are data literate.

Shelly Palmer, CEO of The Palmer Group, has argued that data literacy is a vital skill for modern business leaders. “In order to be a successful executive, you need to understand how data is turned into action,” he wrote.

Employers need to do more to teach data literacy

Despite the near consensus on the value of data literacy, the survey suggests many employers are not doing enough to develop these skills across their workforce. Only 19% agreed that their employer had provided adequate training to develop data literacy.

Paul Mclean, Data Literacy Evangelist at Qlik APAC, said: “We can see a clear gap across APAC whereby business leaders are demanding that their employees leverage data day-to-day to drive actionable insights.

“At the same time, however, there is a noticeable gap in the level of support provided to empower employees with the skills and training required to succeed. The assumption that all employees are equally data literate is a dangerous one that could impact strategic decisions down the line.”

Europe has low levels of data literacy too

The general trend towards low levels of data literacy echoed results of an earlier survey by Qlik of European workers, where only 17% of those polled reported they were data literate.

Despite the perception that younger generations are highly computer literate, the survey results suggest this does not automatically equate to data literacy. An overwhelming 81% of entry-level graduates in APAC countries reported that they were not data literate.

This problem is even more acute in Europe, where 90% of workers at this level reported they were not data literate.

Other surveys have also concluded that the secondary school system is not teaching data literacy at levels sufficient to meet workplace demand. A study by PricewaterhouseCoopers forecasts a growing demand for skills in data science and analytics.

In his TEDx talk ‘The age of data literacy’, Uldis Leiterts suggested that data visualisation tools such as infographics can be a powerful way of utilising, analysing and communicating data.

If you’re a non-tech CEO, here’s how can you make sure you’re not left behind.