M&S sets up data academy to turn staff into data scientists

The retailer will train more than 1,000 staff, including marketers, in areas such as machine learning and artificial intelligence in the biggest digital investment in staff to date as part of ongoing efforts to ensure the business is fit for the future.

Marks & Spencer is ramping up its efforts to become a digital-first business with the launch of a new skills initiative that is looking to create “the most data-literate leadership team in retail”.

The Retail Data Academy, launched in partnership with technology education company Decoded, will take more than 1,000 colleagues from every retail function of the business – including marketing and customer service – and teach them about technologies including machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Colleagues will also be given the chance to enroll on an 18 month in-work data science skills programme, ‘The Data Fellowship’, where they will learn about data analytics tools such as ‘R’ and ‘Python’.

Employees will finish the programme – which is fully funded by the government’s billion pound Apprenticeship Levy – with a data analytics qualification accredited by the British Computing Society.

“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,” says M&S boss Steve Rowe.

“Transformation of our business is key to survival and a huge part of this lies with our colleagues. We need to change our digital behaviours, mindsets and our culture to make the business fit for the digital age and our partnership with Decoded will enable us to do this.”

M&S is upping its focus on digital skills as it looks to move its business online. It aims to generate a third of its business from online, and as part of that is shutting more than 100 stores over the next four years.

M&S saw its results in the year to the end of March decline, with pre-tax profits dropping 62.1% to £66.8m, down from £176.4m the previous year. At the time, Rowe said the retailer was looking to “accelerate change” in digital as it looks to navigate the difficult climate on the high street.

Marketing Week has undertaken an in-depth survey into the data skills gaps and what businesses are looking to do to address it in the August issue of the magazine. The report, in partnership with MiQ, will be published online later this week.