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  • New scheme designed to equip colleagues with the skills to accelerate M&S’s transformation and ensure data is at the heart of all decision-making

  • Over 200 colleagues already upskilled as part of retail’s first Data Fellowship following launch in 2018 - with first two cohorts graduating last week

M&S has launched a brand-new level three data apprenticeship as it continues to invest in building the digital and data capabilities of its colleagues to help accelerate its transformation, in line with its Never the Same Again priorities.

With more customers shopping digitally than ever before, the new course is the latest step M&S is taking to support its plans to supercharge online growth and create a digitally and data enabled culture – having relaunched Sparks as a digital first loyalty programme in July and announced the formation of a new fully integrated online, digital and data division ‘MS2’ in November.

Upskilling colleagues through data is a vital part of the M&S transformation. So far, over 700 colleagues across the organisation have benefitted from specialist data training from M&S partner Decoded.

Empowering M&S’s budding Data Technicians

Open to everyone across the business, the Data Technician course empowers learners with the data skills they need—teaching them the fundamentals of how to manipulate and scrutinise data, and how to translate it into valuable insights that the business can then act upon. The first cohort start this week and the next will begin in January—with a target for over 70 learners to enrol in the first 12 months.

Upskilling colleagues through data is a vital part of the M&S transformation. So far, over 700 colleagues across the organisation have benefitted from specialist data training from M&S partner Decoded.     

The Data Technician course will sit alongside the more advanced Data Analyst Fellowship course, which so far has trained over 200 colleagues across M&S—from our stores and support centres—in skills such as R, Python, SQL and machine learning. Colleagues are already putting their newly acquired skills into practice and are delivering value for the business—including supporting the M&S response to the pandemic.

The first two cohorts (40 colleagues) graduated virtually last week, with 12 achieving distinction and 2 achieving merit. Two case studies are Chris Pitkin who works in our International business as a Franchise Space Planner, and Liz Britton-Jones who works in our Business Continuity team. 

A digital, data-driven culture

Embedding a digital, data-driven culture is how M&S will achieve its ambition of becoming a digital first retailer. As part of this, in October M&S launched a business-wide event called DigiFest to help drum up support and awareness of the growing importance of data at M&S. Feedback was really positive: over 1,000 colleagues attended the virtual conference and 70 colleagues took part in the 24-hour ‘Hackathon’, with the winning team hacking how to speed-up Sparks adoption via a nifty Percy Pig widget (available on the App store, details below).

Seventy colleagues took part in a 24-hour hackathon, which produced sparked a nifty Percy Pig widget (available on the App store, details below). 

But alongside upskilling colleagues and creating an 800-strong data community at M&S, equipping teams with the right tools to find and access the data generated across the business is just as vital. To house its data pathways, M&S has launched a brand-new platform called BEAM, which houses all the required programmes and tools its data practitioners require, such as the M&S data catalogue.

Jeremy Pee, Chief Digital & Data Officer at M&S said:

“M&S has a rich data set - from Sparks to M& to M&S Bank—and in order to thrive in a digital future, we need colleagues who can act upon this insight and put data at the heart of everything we do. With the relaunch of Sparks, the creation of our new data hub BEAM and the continued investment in colleague data literacy programmes, we are building the foundations to deliver a step-change in customer experience, and we’re already seeing the benefits a more data literate workforce can bring. This new apprenticeship will give us a new platform to go even bigger and engage even more colleagues through the power of data and we’re really excited about the difference it will make.”


Notes to editors

About Decoded and the Data Fellowship

M&S partnered with Decoded in 2018 to create retail’s first data academy. The M&S Data Academy takes colleagues from every function of retail - from store managers and visual merchandisers to finance and buying—to create a new raft of data skilled leaders to lead digital transformation across the business.

Decoded leads two pathways for colleagues to be upskilled through data: the Data Leadership programme (which has seen 500 of M&S’s senior leaders get to grips with technology such as machine learning and artificial intelligence and become the most data-literate leadership team in retail) and the Data Fellowship programme (an 18-month in-work data science skills programme open to all M&S colleagues which teaches learners how to harness cutting-edge data analytics tools such as “R” and “Python”).

The Data Fellowship is a level 4 apprenticeship funded by the Apprenticeship Levy, the billion-pound fund created by the Government to help upskill the UK workforce to be ready for the Future of Work. Learners finish the programme with a Data Analytics qualification accredited by the British Computing Society. So far, over 200 colleagues have enjoyed the benefits of joining the Fellowship programme, with the first 40 graduating last week.

About the Data Technician apprenticeship

The Data Technician level 3 apprenticeship runs in conjunction with partner Babington and sits alongside M&S’ existing, more advanced data training pathway—the Data Fellowship, which is run by Decoded.

Like the Fellowship, the course lasts 18 months, with 15 months spent learning and 3 months dedicated to the end point assessment. Learners are expected to spend 5-8 hours studying and applying their skills every week.

Two Data Fellowship case studies

Chris Pitkin works as a Franchise Space Planner in our International business. Chris used his data analysis skills to illustrate to our French stores the benefits that could be achieved by displaying our fresh fruit ranges in a slightly different way. This simple change in the display led to an extra £10,000 of sales per week!

Liz Britton-Jones works in our Business Continuity team. Liz played a crucial role in the M&S response to the pandemic—using her new coding skills to create an incredibly efficient Covid management system via Power BI. Her system continues to store M&S’s ever-growing cache of critical Covid data and is formatted aesthetically so that key info can be viewed by leadership at a glance, which has been vital during the pandemic.

About the Percy Pig Widget

With less than month to go, all Percy-fans can now count down to Christmas with him and a other few festive friends following the release of a brand new widget on Apple’s iOS for all iPhone and iPad users. A widget is slightly larger tile that sits on your device (see left) which clicks through to M& as well as keeping all Percy-fans up to date with the number of days left until Christmas.

An example of how M&S is developing a digital culture to accelerate our transformation, the idea for the widget was born out of our recent Hackathon, where teams of colleagues came together to conceive and create digitally orientated solutions to business challenges in a mere 24 hours.

The widget is not only a fun Percy-themed reminder, but also raises the prominence of our App on users’ iPhones and iPads helping drive greater usage, and was built and launched in just under four days. 

How to download: 

  1. Make sure you have the M&S app installed and your iPhone is updated to iOS 14 
  2. Go to your Home Screen and hold down a blank spot until all the apps jiggle 
  3. A "+" icon should appear in the top left-hand corner 
  4. Click the plus icon and then search for the M&S widget 
  5. Click "Add Widget", then click "Done" 

Let the countdown begin!