Organisations and workforces that don’t evolve fall behind. Retailers who don’t tap into the data goldmine can easily miss out on higher operating profit margins.

As the legendary engineer W. Edwards Deming put it, “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.” Without data, people decide based on instinct, speculation, or prevailing theories. Data provides context and knowledge. However, there is often too much and needless data which makes the whole question of sourcing data even more complicated. Becoming a data led leader is no easy feat. It takes the right skills, the right culture, good systems, the right governance, and the right data ecosystems. Our own BRC Learning customer pulse survey has shown that data and analytical capabilities are of foremost priority for many L&D leaders, but hardly any retailer feels fully prepared for implementing it strategically. We all know it’s not always easy to shift the status quo, particularly where many decision-makers are involved, but despite this, many HR leaders in retail are championing the development of data skills across their organisations to drive more positive business outcomes.

“Data drives our critical decision making,” says Jasmine Fowler, Early Careers Advisor at Joules “Whether this is in store utilising data around customer habits, or within our own L&D team looking at the data from courses we run, and the success factors achieved. This continuous use of data allows us to stay ahead of not just customer habits and changes, but also internal engagement factors. It provides our colleagues with fit and focused initiatives that ensure we do things better.”

Data and technology alone won’t make an organisation more successful. It requires a shift into a learning mindset. L&D professionals play a critical role in advocating and orchestrating that shift. For anyone to analyse data in their job, they must be data proficient. One of the most cost-effective ways of developing data skills is to upskill your internal talent through apprenticeships. They allow you to start small, and then gradually build up your data capability as the employees learn and become more efficient.

“Since I started learning, I have noticed how much time I save by automating tasks,” says Asim Dey, BRC analyst on the L4 Data Analyst Apprenticeship with Cambridge Spark. “Working with large volumes of data in my day-to-day work, the data analyst L4 course has been of great benefit in doing things quicker and analysing the data in much more detail.”

For many retailers, data apprenticeships are a fantastic way of creating a ‘data academy’ nurturing cohorts made up of people from every department in the business. They can learn on the job promoting a culture of continuous learning, or what Deloitte refers to as “devwork”—building on the realisation that learning and work are two constantly connected sides of every job.

“Apprenticeships with Cambridge Spark allow learning and work to weave into one. This supports Joules’s hope of achieving a learning culture where colleagues see learning and working not as individual tasks, but a combined impact on personal achievements and an investment in professional development,” – explains Fowler. “The Apprentices have become ambassadors of learning and share their experiences with other colleagues. The benefit has been great for both the individuals on the programme and the wider business.”

Could the data apprenticeships be the best and quickest way to go about developing the data capability of your workforce?

“There are well-defined learning pathways to upskill people into different data and AI roles, and to do it at scale. This includes opportunities for people in non-technical roles to advance their skill set to improve performance and efficiencies in their role,” – says Dr Raoul-Gabriel Urma, CEO of Cambridge Spark, one of the UK’s leading specialists in Data Science & AI education. “With an apprenticeship, employers can upskill their talent with a recognised government qualification in just 14 months. Cambridge Spark offers a suite of data and AI apprenticeships suitable for all employees, ranging from beginner through to expert. For organisations upskilling their workforce at scale, we help them design and run in-house Data Academies tailored to their organisation. Alternatively, individuals or small teams can join learners from other organisations in our open enrolment programmes that run throughout the year,” – he adds.

Retail has long been a vital component of the British economy, but it will only remain so if the industry continues to improve and expand the capabilities of its workforce. Turning data into actionable insights is not just the analyst’s responsibility but should be embraced by every employee, and most critically, by the decision makers. Data Apprenticeships offer flexible eligibility criteria, a range of qualifications, and a clear career path to more senior roles. They are a cost-effective way of building up a talent pool, which will be increasingly more expensive, and difficult to source externally. As Microsoft details in its e-Book, ‘Embracing the New World of Work’, over the next five years it’s estimated there will be approximately 149 million new tech jobs. So, it’s crucial that businesses think today about the skills they might need tomorrow. Now it’s up to the retailers to ensure they don’t miss this golden opportunity.

If you would like to explore how apprenticeships can help you kick off your journey to digitalisation, visit Cambridge Spark website, and request a free consultation.