• M&S has made its biggest digital investment in its staff to date.
  • The retailer has partnered with London-based tech startup Decoded to launch the world's first data skills academy in retail.
  • More than 1,000 M&S staff will receive training as part of the data skills initiative with employees to enroll in 'The Data Fellowship' – a programme fully funded by the Government's Apprenticeship Levy.
  • The move is part of M&S' ambition to become a digital-first retailer.
More than 1,000 M&S colleagues are to be upskilled as part of the data skills initiative

More than 1,000 M&S colleagues are to be upskilled as part of the data skills initiative

British fashion and food retailer Marks & Spencer is to create what it claims is the world's first data skills academy in retail, designed to bolster the company's ongoing digital transformation and train more than 1,000 M&S staff.

The retailer has partnered with Decoded, a London-based tech startup that aims to increase digital literacy, in a move M&S says will strengthen its transformation into a faster, lower cost, more commercial, more digital business.

The M&S Data Academy will take executives from across every function of the business – from store managers and visual merchandisers to finance and buying – with the aim of creating a new raft of data skilled leaders to lead the company's digital transformation.

The leadership team will embark on a Data Leadership programme, enabling them to get hands-on with technology such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, to become what M&S claims will be the "most data-literate leadership team in retail."

In addition, M&S workers will have the opportunity to enrol on The Data Fellowship, an 18 month in-work data science skills programme. Participants will learn to harness the most cutting-edge data analytics tools such as "R" and "Python" and adopt technologies including machine learning. Learners will finish the programme with a Data Analytics qualification accredited by the British Computing Society.

The Data Fellowship is fully funded by the Apprenticeship Levy; the GBP1bn (US$1.3bn) fund created by the Government to help upskill the UK workforce to be ready for the so-called "Future of Work."

"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 CEO 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."

Founded in 2011, Decoded has reached 850,000 people in more than 85 cities. From AI and blockchain to cybersecurity and quantum computing, the firm's talks, classes, and programmes aim to bring organisations up to speed on the technology underpinning the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0).

"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," adds Decoded founder Kathryn Parsons.