By Sharala Axryd, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, The Center of Applied Data Science

If you are wondering when the time is to start upskilling your workforce, the answer is not today, not tomorrow or not even yesterday… you should have started at least three years ago! For too long, organizations have resisted change and dismissed digital transformation as hype. Now these same organizations are playing catch-up and lagging behind their more agile competitors in a digital evolving reality.

To those who insist that data is not the new oil, look no further than The Big Five – Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Google’s parent company Alphabet who are collectively worth hundreds of billions of dollars, exceeding the value of the economies of countries as big as Saudi Arabia. The oil and gas organizations that once dominated the top companies list can barely crack the top ten.

I have written in a previous piece that 85% of big data projects fail and sadly, the data remains trending in this direction. Harvard Business Review found that organizations calling themselves data-driven has actually dropped each year from 37.1% in 2017 to 32.4% in 2018 to 31.0% in their latest study.

So how do we remedy this situation? I have and will continue to preach that in order to futureproof and position your organization’s sustainable long-term growth, digital transformation requires talent with digital skills. 10 years ago, CEOs were struggling to find professionals with global experience. Today, organizations are desperately seeking digital-savvy leaders as well as a digitally agile workforce. In fact, four out of five CEOs bemoaned their employees’ lack of essential skills and identified that as a threat to growth. LinkedIn Learning’s ‘2019 Workplace Learning Report’ has even christened 2019 as the year of the skills gap, with a 32% increase year over year in identifying and assessing skills gap. Across industries, organizations need talented employees who know how to use new technologies in-line with business objectives, are acquainted with emerging digital business models to achieve business goals and can adapt to new and evolving approaches and methods that can contribute to business growth.

Self-Motivate by Skilling Up

This isn’t only a leadership concern. Tech illiteracy is more likely to make the workforce redundant long before automation has the chance. By 2030, as many as 375 million workers globally will have to master fresh skills as their current jobs evolve alongside the rise of automation and capable machines, estimates McKinsey Global Institute. Employees are just as responsible to upskill themselves, either through organizational training or independent learning by proactively seeking out new skill sets and certifications. They have to adopt an agile mindset that embraces change and uncertainty to create value in a hyper-connected, automated world.

They themselves by right are the best judges of what skills they have and what skills they need. In doing so, they can self-report their capabilities to their managers and together identify what gaps need to be filled along with which areas can be upskilled. Reskilling might even be necessary to replace outdated skills with new skills to meet the changing job landscape as essential skills acquired only lasts around five years on average. Allowing the employee’s skill-set to grow redundant is a disservice to them and what they can meaningfully contribute to the business. Managers can track and measure the employee’s progress against set key metrics, advancing promotion opportunities in potential leadership roles and even match-make the employee to a role more suited to their capabilities and career direction.

Given the accelerated evolving technology, new approaches to digital solutions can completely disrupt the current business landscape. What may be the ‘skills of today’ won’t necessarily be relevant tomorrow as 65% of future jobs haven’t been created yet. A 2017 report by Capgemini and LinkedIn states that nearly 30% of professionals fear their skills will be redundant by 2020, while 38% stated they believed their skills will become stale in the next four to five years. The World Economic Forum agrees with this sentiment in their 2018 Future of Jobs report, which paints a bleak picture of the average worker who will be unqualified for their current job over the next four years unless they acquire nearly half of the skills necessary by 2022 to successfully do their job. Simply put, employees will need to relearn 30% of their jobs to stay relevant.

Don’t look for Talent – Build it

Jeff Bezos, chief executive officer of, once said: “I’d rather interview 50 people and not hire anyone than hire the wrong person.” Just like Bezos used to do, I personally interview every single applicant when hiring to ensure the right person is tasked with moving our company forward. Otherwise, the company culture can be negatively disrupted and demoralize the team. This begs the question, why take the risk? Not only is there already a scarcity of talent in the market but it takes time to familiarize them with the company culture, meet the company’s expectations, have them learn the workflow and processes from scratch and if they can’t perform, it is expensive to replace them.

The smarter investment is in upskilling your current workforce, which can lead to a more well-rounded, cross-trained workforce while increasing team effectiveness. More than half (54%) of all employees will require significant reskilling and upskilling in just three years. Providing support, development and career pathing keeps the workforce engaged, productive, innovative and competitive, reduces ‘brain drain’ and better prepared to handle challenges – all of which enhances the organization’s bottom line.

Organizations have to instill a culture of active learning with an engaged workforce now so that, whatever skills are needed down the road, companies are responsive and have all the processes in place to roll out a successful upskilling initiative. An encouraging outlook by PWC indicates that 74% of employees say they are ready to learn new skills or re-train to remain employable in the future. Capitalize on this by asking relevant questions to assess where you are in your journey. From there, a roadmap can be conceptualized to define how much of the workforce needs to be upskilled and how. Strong communication plays a major factor as leaders would need to interact with their workforce to manage the change taking place. A strategic approach with a long-term outlook can result in a greater unity of purpose in not just the leadership team but the organization as a whole. Knowledge and education will divide the winners and losers in Industry 4.0 as talent is the heart of every organization.

 The Data Driven Journey

To invest in upskilling successfully, organizations would benefit greatly from first capitalizing on skills planning. Skills planning is the keystone of any strong upskilling program, by clearly presenting where the organization’s workforce is currently in comparison to where the workforce needs to go. In other words, organizations can identify essential skills that are required as well as the development employees need to meet ideal proficiency.

Unlike traditional transformation programs, The Center of Applied Data Science (CADS) Data Driven Organization Model (DDO) focuses on comprehensively transforming six key areas within the organization comprising Strategy, Culture, Talent, Analytics, Data and Technology and consists of five unique phases – Discovery, Awareness, Assessment, Enablement and Delivery.

The CADS Data Driven Organization Model is a unique and impactful model looks at transformation from six different perspectives to deliver real business value.

The DDO Model assesses and provides insights on where organizations stand with respect to each of these six areas. The insights include recommendations of what the next steps are. From these recommendations, CADS comes up with a comprehensive action plan for each of these 6 areas. The model aligns expectations between several levels of leadership as it provides a roadmap to infuse, empower and engage the organization with strategic use of its big data and analytics capabilities, depending on the key area. With this information, organizations can adequately plan their upskill programs and avoid risk of wasting valuable resources for no return.

The versatility of the DDO Model can be utilized for any industry embarking on their data driven journey. Based on our own independent assessments, the insights uncovered show that the Oil & Gas sector report relatively higher scores than most of the other sectors across most dimensions (except Utilities and Mechanical & Electrical Engineering).

Specifically, for the talent dimension, all sectors but the Oil & Gas sector declare largely that they either do not have an analytics team or that they are investigating their options regarding the preparation for data analytics requirements. The Oil and Gas sector’s relatively high scoring in the talent dimension translates into actively hiring or training data scientists.

This could mean that some organizations are perhaps relatively advanced in certain dimensions of the DDO model like technology and data, but they lack the talent that would drive their analytics and insights. Overall, what was most alarming was that among the six dimensions of the DDO model, the talent dimension trails behind the others across all respondents.

Average Score of Each DDO Dimension By Industry Sector

Many leaders whom I have spoken with often have to resort to either poaching from other organizations or importing their talent from overseas, both of which are expensive and usually temporary solutions. When all is said and done, it is about taking initiative and gathering up the courage to make that big leap into data driven status.

Ensure the business is set for success by developing a digital mindset, skills and new ways of working for all employees across all levels. It is incumbent on organizations to advance their workforce’s abilities in realizing the value of cognitive technologies and thus transform their enterprises into efficient engines fueled by innovation.

Based on what we see above, the question on “where do I begin” is automatically answered. We should begin with Talent. Then the next question arises, “how should I do it”? The department leads of Human Capital, CEO and the Chief Strategist need to come together and strategize the necessary steps to take when embarking on the data science journey. First and foremost, identify which talents within the organization can be upskilled quickly. Parallelly, educate the whole company on what is Big Data 101, Data Storytelling and Data Visualization as this knowledge will be a strong foundation for the future. Build a learning pathway of online classes, courses and other educational programs for all the organization’s must-have skills. This should be the priority of one’s organization for the next one to two years! If these are not in place as soon as possible, organizations will struggle to stay alive.


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