Insights Blog

Why employee education is crucial for data literacy 

Teaching people to become more data literate.

Many organizations want to roll-out self-serve analytics strategies to free up their IT teams’ time and put data in the hands of those who need it. But the success of such a tactic relies heavily on employee education around new tools and technologies – something Exasol technical trainer Michael Bailey knows all about.

Here, he gives his thoughts on the technicalities of training.

In our industry, buzzwords like data-driven, data democratization and data literacy have been repeated almost to the point of exhaustion. And yet I think these concepts remain valid – perhaps even crucial – when organizations want to work with data across multiple business disciplines. 

Almost every business decision-maker has come to recognize the benefit of being data-driven, thanks to the mountains of data being generated and the tools we now have to draw insights from it. But it’s impossible to be data-driven if your employees aren’t data literate, which is where data democracy comes in. You need to give your people the tools and access to work with the data.

But how do businesses make sure they are doing all they can to achieve these data ‘holy grails’? As a technical trainer with Exasol, I essentially teach people to become more data literate. Here’s how.

Data literacy and data democratization. What’s the difference?

Simply put, data literacy is about people having the skills and understanding to interpret sometimes complex information on their own and being able to act on their findings. Many companies rely on ‘information gatekeepers’ – a special set of individuals who can understand and access the vast amounts of data flowing through the business. But this approach is flawed because it limits the amount of time and resources dedicated to utilizing data and also holds others back from using the data themselves.

When people are data literate, they can understand data, analyse it and apply their own ideas, skills and expertise to it. Which brings us again to data democratization. By opening up data to more people and more ways of thinking, any organization can benefit from more perspectives and experiences.

It also means a greater number of people within the organization can make decisions based on data – drawing conclusions and taking action based on what’s actually happening, rather than on a hunch.

The role of employee education

The more people with the knowledge, confidence and tools to unravel and take meaning from data, the more successful an organization can be.

Employee education plays a crucial role in this mission, not only in training new employees, who may have some skills but aren’t yet the finished article, but also long-standing team members who perhaps need a gentle steer to look at things in a new light or in a different context. 

After college, I took a job as a technical trainer and progressed from there through a number of positions as a trainer and a support engineer. The fact that I’ve ‘done the job’ as well as taught the theory has really helped me, as I appreciate where the stumbling blocks and barriers pop up as an engineer and use these as examples within my training. 

Now, I work with Exasol’s customers and their employees to make sure they understand our platform, know how to get the best out of it and appreciate the core benefits of being able to interpret and apply data learnings, to drive ultimate business value.

How to train people

With this in mind, here are three tips on how best to train people in a way that ultimately will help businesses achieve the core data ambitions I discussed at the start of this blog.

1. It’s a conversation, not a presentation

Although Powerpoint is a useful tool and works well as a visual prompt, I try and avoid making it the centre of my sessions. I pride myself on no two sessions I teach ever really being the same, because why would it be? I have different people in each session, each with different motivations, questions and experiences. 

2. Collaborate and learn together

I ask my trainees as many questions as I can, especially when working with our Exasol customers and their experience of our platform. What issues have they faced? Have they succeeded in their goals? What are their biggest barriers? What’s the most unusual challenge they’ve encountered?

Not only do the answers they give me provide me with excellent context from which to explain the technology, but they also give me great, authentic examples to take to my next session. If I don’t learn from my trainees in a session, then I haven’t done my job properly.

3. Be enthusiastic – even remotely!

If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that engaging with people while working remotely is a big challenge. As a trainer, I’ve felt this particularly keenly. If a group of people don’t engage, it’s very difficult, and a remote situation can only make this worse. However, it’s my responsibility as a trainer to impart enthusiasm and set that tone of engagement from the off. If I’m having fun, my audience will too. 

It’s definitely better if we’re there in person, because training is like performing; it’s always better to have a real stage and an audience who are actually right in front of you. But by instilling a sense of positive confidence and energy, a remote session can be just as enjoyable and fruitful as an in-person one. My rules are: be energetic, smile and have coffee within easy reach!

The crucial ingredient

My final word on the topic is that to become truly data-driven, there must be universal buy-in from across the organization. Explain the benefits whenever you can and reinforce the message, allowing it to become part of the fabric and value structure of the business. 

Challenge those who oppose using data to improve processes, by showing them the results and outcomes that the approach can bring – and make sure your execs are bought in and vocal about these benefits.

Data democracy and data literacy can be taught. But a data-driven ethos must be lived. Make it integral to how your business functions and you too will collect the rewards.

Michael Bailey is a technical trainer at Exasol. This means he works closely with our customers to help them get the best out of our platform. Previously, he taught IT skills to k-12 teachers plus university and high school students. He also developed and delivered workforce engagement management courses for admins, partners, and end users globally.