Upskilling in a data-driven economy

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Written by Gerry Griffin on 10 February 2020

Reading time: 4 minutes

As with previous shifts between ages, the start of the fourth industrial revolution has restructured the world and the workplace.

However, the shift this revolution has created – moving the world into the information age – has been unique in terms of the speed of change and its global scope.

There is no doubt that the development in technology has had countless impacts on modern society. In today’s workplace, the 30-year career is dead.

This used to be the hallmark of success, yet it has rapidly disappeared. It is no longer standard practice to retain the same career or rely on the same set of skills for an entire working life.

An important reason for this is the continuous development of technology. It is rare for technology to stay the same for any considerable amount of time.

It seldom stays the same for five years, and after 10 it has radically changed and impacted the world in a revolutionary way. The smartphone’s impact over a single decade provides an obvious example, but there are an abundance of others.

The increasing size of data and memory

The increase in memory storage has led to the increase in available information. In 1999, IBM released the Microdrive in 170MB and 340MB; this was the smallest and highest capacity drive at the time.

Within 15 years, the average computer hard drive would be 1TB, an increase of over 2,500 times.

Cloud services such as Dropbox didn’t exist until 2007, yet it is thought that soon 50% of the world’s data will exist on cloud services.

The size of that data will also be inconceivably enormous, growing from 33 zettabytes in 2018 to 175 zettabytes by 2025.

Companies make use of data to understand their customers, financials and markets, and to make predictions

That is 175 trillion gigabytes of data. To put that into perspective, there are around 100 billion stars in our galaxy, that is 1,750 gigabytes of data for every star.

The impact on the workspace

Technological change on this scale impacts the workplace. Organisations now have more data available to them than ever before, and it is continuing to grow.

Companies now make use of this data to understand their customers, financials and markets, and to make predictions like never before.

With the growing importance of data in companies, it is also important for employees to have the necessary skills to use, interpret and communicate this data.

The leading statistician at Yale, Prof. Edward Tufte, once said “clutter and confusion are not attributes of data – they are shortcomings of design”.

The volume of data should not be the problem, as long as today’s workforce can understand, make use of, and communicate data clearly. 

In this context, the need for developing new skills or ‘upskilling’ is essential. Organisations need their employees to continuously learn – to be able to take advantage of new technologies and to compete in a world of continuous and rapid technological advancement.

The ability to understand, use, and visualise data is a clear example of this. Only 20 years ago, the average company did not have access to a fraction of the data they constantly rely on today, and they need a workforce which reflects this reality.

How these issues can be confronted and tackled

Skill Pill is looking to find a solution to the problem of technological upskilling. Following the success of the Digital Transformation series, which helps employees take advantage of emerging technologies and digital tools in the workplace, Skill Pill has recently completed the Data Visualisation series.



Across 75 charts, provided by the Financial Times’ visual vocabulary, the series attempts to find solutions to the problems we have discussed, and help employees use and present data clearly and concisely.

The problems discussed in this piece are not going away any time soon, and technological development is unlikely to slow down any time soon either.

Within this context, it is vital and necessary for there to be continuous employee development. Without this, it is an unlikely prospect that employees will be able to keep up with the pace of technological change, and its substantial impact on the workplace.

This is not just a problem for the employee who, without the support needed to adapt and upskill, will eventually find themselves left behind.

It is also a problem for organisations, which cannot hope to be competitive in today's economy without a workforce capable of navigating the changing technological landscape of the 21st century.

There are various approaches to this issue, yet there has been no uniform answer, and it is very possible there is no sweeping solution to the broad challenges we’ve discussed.

Yet, there are actions we can take to navigate these issues, and at Skill Pill we believe that maintaining effective and continuous learning and upskilling within the workplace is one of the most important steps we can take.

To find out more about Skill Pill and the Data Visualisation series, you can get in touch here.


About the author

Gerry Griffin is the founder of Skill Pill.


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