Marks & Spencer is taking matters into its own hands to tackle the data science skills shortage by becoming the first major retailer to launch its own data academy in an effort to turn staff from every department into data experts as it strives to ramp up its digital strategy.
The move comes just five months after the retail giant drafted in Starcount – the company run by Clubcard founders Edwina Dunn and Clive Humby – to boost its Sparks Card loyalty scheme as well as bolster its five-year transformation plan.
Sparks, which currently has over 6 million members, is a key tool for customer insight and engagement and central to helping M&S become a digital-first retailer. M&S chief executive Steve Rowe previously insisted that the firm wants data analysis “to become the glue that sits above our business units and underpins the brand”.
As part of the new initiative, staff will be encouraged to enrol on an 18-month in-house data science skills programme, during which they will learn about machine learning and artificial intelligence.
The M&S plan is to create a new raft of data skilled leaders and data scientists to lead digital transformation across the depth and breadth of its business.
Announcing the scheme, Rowe said: “We need to change their digital behaviours, mindsets and our culture to make the business fit for the digital age.”
The training will be provided by Decoded, a London-based education business, and M&S expects to train more than 1,000 employees in the first 18 months, from board directors and members of the finance department to the buyers and store managers.
Successful students will gain a data analytics qualification accredited by the British Computer Society and the training will be funded through the apprenticeship levy, a UK Government scheme which forces companies to set aside an equivalent of 0.5% of their payroll for staff training.
Decoded co-founder and joint chief executive Kathryn Parsons said the aim will be to make the heads of M&S the most data-literate leadership team in retail, and added. “This is a pioneering and inspiring commitment to life-long learning and future-facing skills. Every leader in business today should take note.”
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