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SAS steps up free data skills programme for job seekers

SAS has expanded its free data skills for jobseekers’ programme, aiming it at people who have been adversely affected by the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic

SAS has expanded the free data skills for jobseekers programme it announced earlier this year. The programme is geared towards placing in employment people who have been adversely affected by the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK.

The supplier has added a data science module to the original data literacy and data analysis ones, and a fourth, in data engineering, will be launched in September, a spokesperson confirmed.

The data science learning pathway aims to provide a grounding in programming, data engineering and manipulation, applied mathematics, statistics, data science innovation, data ethics and data privacy.

Someone who has benefited from the SAS STEP (software, training, enablement, placement) is James Lancashire, 47, from Cumbria, who was made redundant in August 2020 after spending 24 years as an outdoors pursuits instructor.

Among other things, he had put senior executives from the likes of Volkswagen and BAE Systems through their paces on outdoor adventure leadership training – in aid of training needs analysis and business behavioural change programmes.

Lancashire has been able to use the skills provided by the SAS STEP programme, which was launched in March, to secure a full-time, senior role as a data management consultant at artificial intelligence (AI) firm Butterfly Data, in late June 2021.

He is among the first to have performed the first two pathways.

After being made redundant, he didn’t see any work coming up until around August 2021, so decided to try something new – in data. “I’d avoided desk and computer work for decades, and would probably have become a delivery driver otherwise,” he said. “Now I am dealing with stakeholders through computer systems, Zoom, Teams and Slack, whereas my background is very much in face-to-face.”

“The best thing was the data visualisation. That was the moment of epiphany”

James Lancashire

Lancashire’s original degree was in cartography and geography, so another option could have been in digital mapping. “But I felt data made more sense, and I’ve got the interacting with people element back,” he said.

At present, he is working remotely, and is an example of something often said with regard to the pandemic, that companies can now source talent from anywhere, irrespective of an employee’s location.

He said the two soft skills modules on the SAS course, which were relatively easy for him given his background in coaching, are very well put together – “well modulated, well weighted, with a very modern way of thinking”.

For anyone from a non-traditional background, the main thing is not to be scared of the data, said Lancashire. “You get talked and walked through it. It’s very hand-on learning. You can reflect and repeat. There’s a lot of guided self-discovery as to how you’ve solved a problem.

“The initial data literacy [course] put things I knew about into context. But the best thing was the data visualisation in the second one. That was the moment of epiphany. You see how changing fields comes through in the visualisation. It took the data from spreadsheets and fields to something I could interact with.”

SAS aims to train 10,000 people to become data analysts through the course. So far, numbers are in the hundreds, according to a spokesperson.

Like others who have completed it, Lancashire received an accreditation badge, through Credly, which also advertises vacancies. “I wouldn’t have got the job without the badge,” he said.

Read more about data science education and training

Simon Overton, director, SAS UK & Ireland, said: “There is huge support and interest among government and commercial customers, coupled with an uptake in training among people on furlough. Scaling out is the next phase, and it is very much in step with what the government is trying to do, in terms of departments like DWP and HMRC, in terms of data science capability. It massively links with what they are trying to achieve. The major banks, too.”

However, SAS STEP is “very much aimed at jobseekers, whether unemployed or facing redundancy; not our customers”, a spokesperson added.

Roderick Crawford, vice-president and country manager, SAS UK & Ireland, said: “James’ career switch is an excellent proof of concept for our programme’s potential to transform careers for those looking to upskill and join a new industry. Our primary goal with the initiative has always been to address the economic challenges brought about by the pandemic and to help individuals, so it is hugely inspiring to hear success stories like this one.

“Everyone at SAS is hugely proud to have played a part in helping James on his journey in such an exciting new career direction. Although it has only been live for a matter of months, we can’t wait to see more amazing outcomes like this one as take-up of the programme continues to rise.”

And Gillian Keegan, minister for apprenticeships and skills, said: “It is great to see how the SAS STEP programme is already supporting people to access the highly valued data skills they need to get ahead, helping to tackle skills shortages in vital sectors. As we recover from the pandemic, it is even more important that everyone has the opportunity to learn the skills they need to progress and employers have access to the high-quality talent pipeline they need for the future.”

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