M&S establishes Data Academy to develop digital skills

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Marks & Spencer is offering data skills training for more than 1,000 of its retail staff to help it modernise and diversify away from its traditional high street model.

The retailer has partnered with digital skills training provider Decoded to launch the M&S Data Academy, which will see staff from every function of retail – from store managers to visual merchandisers – learn the digital skills the retailer needs to complete its transformation plan.

Staff will be given the opportunity to enroll on the 18-month Data Fellowship programme, which was developed by Decoded and is fully funded by the Apprenticeship Levy. They will learn programming languages including R and Python, as well as develop skills around machine learning.

After the in-work training is complete, the employees will receive a Data Analytics qualification accredited by the British Computing Society.

M&S chief executive Steve Rowe said it was the biggest investment the company had made in digital skills to date.

“Transformation of our business is key to survival and a huge part of this lies with our colleagues. We need to change their digital behaviours, mindsets and our culture to make the business fit for the digital age and our partnership with Decoded will enable us to do this,” he explained.

M&S, which has lost market share to online rivals, claimed it was the first data academy to be established in retail.

Decoded founder Kathryn Parsons said: “We are proud to be working with one of the UK’s most iconic brands in retail and excited to be putting data literacy and skills in the hands of over 1,000 people.

“This is a pioneering and inspiring commitment to lifelong learning and future-facing skills. Every leader in business today should take note. Education is the answer to The Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

The M&S programme challenges the argument that businesses are lacking digital skills within their organisations, according to Nick Ford, chief technology evangelist at app development platform Mendix.

“What they’re lacking is the digital mindsets to drive transformation,” he said. “This great initiative from M&S really taps into that issue – helping equip current employees with the skills to make a difference, rather than gazing outside their business and hoping the change-makers come.”

Research published by PricewaterhouseCoopers earlier this month found that artificial intelligence will create as many jobs as it replaces over the next 20 years. There is expected to be a 22% uplift in the jobs available in healthcare, a 6% increase in education roles and a 16% increase in jobs in the professional, scientific and technical services sector.

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