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March 23, 2021

How Data Literate are the ‘D/Natives’?

(Mascha Tace/Shutterstock)

Digital natives, or D/Natives, are poised to lead the next generation of data analytics and AI work at companies around the world. But why do so few these young, tech-savvy individuals consider themselves data literate? The analytics company Exasol explores that in a new report.

In “D/Natives: The future of your business,” Exasol seeks to chart the “rise of the D/Native” and provide a guide to help companies merge the natural abilities of the D/Natives with the data-driven glidepath that companies currently are on.

D/Natives, of course, are folks who have grown up using the Internet and mobile devices. They are widely considered to be naturally more adept at navigating modern technology than the generations of youth who came before them.

Exasol, which develops a column-oriented analytics database, commissioned Censuswide to survey 3,000 American, British, and German youth between the ages of 16 and 21 to find out more about their relationship with data and to gauge their data literacy.

It concluded that 76% of young people believe data and statistics has an impact on their lives. It also found that just over half (55%) said they understood that data literacy will be as critical to their futures as the ability to read and write.

But there’s a catch, Exasol says. For starters, just 43% of respondents consider themselves to be data literate. What’s more, 54% of survey-takers say they’re not familiar with the term “data literacy” or what it means.

That should be a red flag to business leaders who will be looking to D/Natives to help usher in the next round of big data breakthroughs, according to Exasol.

“While this could suggest a significant skills shortage, it could also mean that today’s young people are simply not conversant with business terminology around data,” Exasol states in the report. “Either way, it suggests there’s still progress to be made.”

The data suggest that young people may already be aware of this, according to the report, which found 55% of respondents agreeing that “data skills should be more prominent in their education.”

(Source: D/Natives: The future of your business”

The lack of clarity around “data literacy” could also stem from the words that are being used, the report says. While D/Natives are generally competent at navigating digital services (hence the term “digital natives”), they’re just not making the same connection with the words “data literacy” that others are making, Exasol says.

“…[E]ven students in data-related university courses do not think of themselves as heavily involved in data,” Exasol says in the report. “They see themselves as dealing with math, statistics, programming, or coding instead.”

Helena Schwenk, a technology evangelist at Exasol, sees untapped potential to help D/Natives refine their data analysis, storytelling, and visualization skills, which could “spur a revolution” in the way we use data.

“But our survey highlights two issues: a genuine skills shortage when it comes to the more complex data skills gained through the education system and a clear miscommunication between the language D/Natives use and the business jargon used by employers,” Schwenk says in a press release. “There is work for educators, business leaders, and the young people themselves to do to bridge the data literacy gap—to create not just a productive workforce but also a richer society.”

The company collected some interesting figures when it comes to how responsible D/Natives are with their own data. It found that 60% of survey respondents say they want to protect their personal data and 53% say they’re concerned about privacy.

But another red flag popped up. When it comes to reading the “terms and conditions” that accompany online services, a whopping 44% of the youth claim that they take the time to actually read them. This number is at odds with similar surveys, including a 2017 Deloitte study that found 91% of American consumers do not read the terms and conditions before accepting them. Among the coveted 18-34 demographic that most closely matches the D/Native age range, only 3% of Americans in the Deloitte survey say they read the terms and conditions.

What does this data mean? Can the data be trusted? Are German or British youth that much more concerned about their privacy than their American counterparts? What was the German/British/American split? These are questions that data literate people should be asking. And the questions are especially appropriate when it comes to understanding opinion surveys, the results of which often must be taken with a grain of salt (or at least a disclosed margin of statistical error).

Asking young people directly about their data literacy, it would seem, may not be the best way to gauge the actual level of data literacy that exists in the population. Exasol, which also conducted interviews for its report in addition to conducting the opinion survey, appears to recognize this phenomenon when it writes:

“Ultimately, it seems young people are just not aware of how much data they actively interpret and use in their everyday lives. While they say they’re not literate, our research suggests they actually are. This holds promise for employers.”

You can download the report here.

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