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M&S aims to give 1,000 employees data skills

Luxury supermarket Marks and Spencer has partnered with Decoded to create a programme aimed at teaching its employees data skills

Marks and Spencer has partnered with Decoded to create an academy which will teach the retailer’s employees about retail data.

The supermarket aims to teach more than 1,000 of its employees about technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), as well as help them become more data literate.

The retailer’s chief executive, Steve Rowe, claimed the partnership is part of the supermarket’s plans to shift the firm’s culture to adapt to the digital age.

“This is our biggest digital investment in our people to date, and the creation of the M&S Data Academy will upskill colleagues and provide them with an in-depth level of digital literacy as well as a Data Analytics qualification,” he said. “Transformation of our business is key to survival and a huge part of this lies with our colleagues.”

Employees of any role can take part in the M&S Data Academy to learn data skills which will help them better lead digital transformation across all business functions.

The retailer’s leadership team will also go through a Digital Leadership programme to help them learn about technologies that will help them to be better digital leaders and have experience in this tech first-hand.

The programme, which will take 18 months, will teach its participants about data science skills relevant to M&S, using data analytics tools such as R and Python.

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Once completed, participants will receive a BCS accredited Data Analytics qualification, and founder of partner firm Decoded, Kathryn Parsons, said this step by M&S shows a “pioneering and inspiring commitment to lifelong learning”.

Retailers have been facing a number of challenges in recent years, including forced digital transformation as a result of digital customer behaviour, legacy systems preventing this transformation, and a lack of skills in their organisations to adopt these new digital technologies.

“Every leader in business today should take note,” said Parsons. “Education is the answer to The Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

The programme is fully funded by the Government’s apprenticeship levy, which was introduced in 2017 with the aim of creating and funding high-quality apprenticeships across the UK.

Many firms in the technology industry have expressed concerns about whether or not they can use the Levy to give people already working for them new skills, which M&S is now an example of.

Accelerating business transformations

This is not the first move for M&S to try and speed up its digital transformation. Earlier in 2018, the retailer announced plans to accelerate its business transformation as its profits dropped, starting with the closure of 100 stores by 2022 to adapt to increasingly digital consumer behaviour.

The firm also claimed it hoped to upgrade the supply chain across its clothing, home and goods ranges, as well as improve its online presence after admitting that its website is too slow.

Marks and Spencer has been aware of the need for digital transformation for many years, and spoke in early 2018 about the costs it hopes to save by becoming a digital-first business.

Weeks before it announced its partnership with Decoded to teach its staff data skills, M&S partnered with Founders Factory to invest in retail technology startups and gain access to Founders Factory’s pool of entrepreneurs.

Read more on IT for retail and logistics

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