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M&S Creates Data Academy to Retrain Staff into Data Scientists

Theo Priestley


M&S Decoded Data Academy

Over 1,000 employees will enrol in the M&S Data Academy across 2018/19, making it the world’s largest retail data skills initiative.


Marks and Spencer employees will be encouraged to enrol on an 18-month in-work data science skills programme, during which they will learn about machine learning and programming languages, such as R and Python.

The new initiative pushed forward on the retailer’s “Digital First” strategy with the co-creation of the world’s first Data Academy with technology education partner, Decoded. an ambitious project to bring transformational change across the customer experience. Starting in July 2018, the M&S Data Academy will take employees from every function of the business to create a new, data skilled leaders and data scientists to achieve its goals.

Steve Rowe, chief executive, said “We need to change their digital behaviours, mindsets and our culture to make the business fit for the digital age.”

Creating New Digital Leaders

M&S employees will have the opportunity to enrol on The Data Fellowship, an 18 month in-work data science skills programme. Participants will learn cutting edge data analytics and move onto topics such as machine learning and artificial intelligence. Those who finish the 18 month programme leave with a Data Analytics qualification accredited by the British Computing Society.

The Data Fellowship is fully funded by the Apprenticeship Levy, a billion pound fund created by the Government to help upskill the UK workforce to be ready for the Future of Work.

Kathryn Parsons, co-founder at Decoded, 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.”

Adding commentary to the news of the Data Academy, Daniel Winterstein, expert in applied data science and CTO at Good-Loop, said “Like computer literacy before it, AI and data-science are moving from the academic fringe to being a key part of mainstream life.

“We should have taught Data Literacy at school 10 years ago. Programmes like this – and those run by CodeClan here in Scotland – are a welcome attempt to address that oversight. The new machine learning tools – and the business apps built with AI – are powerful and can transform business.

“Training people in Data Literacy and the proper use of AI is essential. I’d like to see more Scottish business following M&S in training staff for the new data-powered world.”

Preparing for the Future of Retail

Marks and Spencer has long recognised that it needs to keep apace of retail transformation, and this isn’t the first initiative to try to do so. M&S recently partnered with Founders Factory to invest in retail technology startups to share in the innovation taking place across the retail industry. Earlier in 2018 it announced the closure of 100 physical stores over the next 4 years to respond to consumer trends moving to digital and online experiences. The Data Skills Academy however is the first to concentrate fully on the up-skilling of the workforce as an enabler.

“Transformation of our business is key to survival and a huge part of this lies with our colleagues.” added Rowe.





Theo Priestley

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