Apprenticeship Levy, Data Analytics

Why data literacy is a must-have for retail recovery this Autumn

02 August 2021 by Heidi Marshall

As the retail industry starts to emerge from the pandemic innovation, change, and reinvention are top of the agenda. In what was already an era marked by digitalisation, the stakes are now so much higher. Delivering an omnichannel retail strategy with data at its heart is a pre-requisite.

The challenge for retailers is to ensure their employees are sufficiently skilled to thrive in a data-driven culture. There is a worrying mismatch between current capability and the skills needed to drive success in a digital economy. CGS (2020) indicates that nearly half (42%) of retail employees haven’t received any digital learning. If we look at wider trends across the UK workforce, only 17% of employees consider themselves to be data literate. Little surprise then that we are seeing a surge in retailers who are grappling with the challenge of addressing this need and demand for practical, business-critical development for the workforce.

Data sits at the heart of any agile and adaptable omnichannel retail model. Not just access to it, but ability to interpret it to make smart decisions. Retailers are struggling with how to best blend the people, process and technology elements necessary to establish a truly data-informed culture. The business case for investing in achieving this is well-publicised and speaks for itself:

• Data literate organisations are associated with a 3-5% higher enterprise value. (Qlik Data Literacy Index).
• The annual productivity difference between employees with insufficient digital skills and their more data-confident peers is £10k per employee (APPG on Data Analytics, 2020).
• There is a £10billion annual cost to the UK economy in lost productivity due to lack of data skills.

Data literacy training can help to overcome this challenge.

What do we mean by data literacy, and why is it a must-have skill?

Data literacy refers to the capacity to read, work with, analyse and influence decisions with data – irrespective of role, skill level or the data-specific tools used. Being data literate, and as a result, understanding data, enables workers at different levels to effectively communicate, make more informed decisions and build knowledge based on the huge pool of insights that can be drawn from the data that surrounds us.

The figures back this up. Employees who have a strong grasp on data are 50% more likely to feel empowered when it comes to decision making compared to their data illiterate colleagues. Not only this, but businesses that embrace and nurture data literacy are associated with a 3-5% higher enterprise value. In a marketplace where only 32% of companies report to realise tangible and measurable value from data, maximising data literacy across the organisation presents both a competitive advantage and a more confident and empowered retail workforce.

However, it’s simply not enough to bring a small team of data specialists into the fabric of your workforce. Most employees need to understand data, whether this is from the head office, shop floor or in the warehouses.

“We need people who can work with data, drive the tools, write code and manipulate the data. But we also need people to be able to critique the use of data, understand its constraints and its impact on society. We need this blend of skills to get the best out of data.” – Dr Jeni Tennison, ODI Vice President – ODI Summit 2020

Five reasons for prioritising data literacy

1. Quick wins and long-term growth. There are clear benefits for your organisation - both in the short term and longer term. By utilising tools and resources that are likely already available to much of your workforce – think Power BI and Power Query, your employees can make immediate changes that will help them to do repetitive work much more efficiently and with fewer errors. In the longer term, building data literacy is a crucial step in your digital transformation journey, especially as part of a wider O2O (Online to Offline) strategy. The final destination being a culture that expects and depends upon data-driven decision making.

2. Digital skills for Digital Natives. Contrary to what you might assume about those entering the workforce for the first time, recent graduates and early careers employees may have grown up in a digital world, but employers are reporting that they are lacking some of the critical technical skills. Employers cite the areas of most concern as coding and programming, job specific technical skills and data handling and analysis. (Student Development Survey (Institute of Student Employers, March 2021). Now is the time to nurture those coming into the retail industry, helping them to make an impact through the application of data and digital skills.

3. A powerful employee engagement and motivation tool. It’s been an undeniably tough 18 months for the industry. An eye-watering 1.6 million retail workers have been furloughed; while many thousands of others have felt the strain of long hours and high demand. As retailers prioritise acceleration of their digitisation, it’s important to give back to the employees who are feeling the effect of those demands. Give people the right tools and skills to do their jobs and their engagement and discretionary effort will flourish. Retail leaders shouldn’t underestimate the impact of feeling invested in, and the resulting loyalty especially when the employer is equipping them with sought-after skills. The confidence, empowerment and productivity that results from being able to do your job efficiently and make sound recommendations are powerful motivators. And never more relevant than when the economy is so fragile.

4. Reduce the risk of derailment from your digital transformation roadmap. Retail organisations are naturally at different stages of their journeys towards being data-led. Yet all retailers – pure play, bricks and mortar retailers, and those with an omnichannel strategy, need to focus on raising the bar on the data skills of the general workforce if they are to make data-driven decision making part of the way their business is run. Many organisations, including Yoox-Net-a-Porter, Asda, East of England Co-op and BooHoo are investing in data skills programmes as part of a forward-thinking talent strategy designed to meet business goals of digitisation.

5. Data skills are applicable across your company. Data surrounds us all – and none more so than in the retail sector. From delving into website traffic and buying habits being avidly tracked by your marketing team, to complex data that will help to predict employee engagement and retention by your HR team. From product managers looking to use data to inform decision-making to customer service professionals using valuable data to raise Net Promoter Score. Data is in every department, used to differing degrees by employees across the business. The success each of these departments has in analysing the data and making insightful, data-driven decisions hinges on the ability to access, interpret and understand the data at all levels

Small changes can have a huge impact. The pandemic has been a humbling lesson in reminding us that the small cogs of society are the very essence of our progress. Putting as much emphasis on data skills as you would management and technical training, will prepare retailers for the coming months and years. This is about culture change and we know that starting from the grassroots is a great way to feed culture change directives from above.

Integrating technology should support better outcomes, easier ways to work, a greater degree of transparency, and positive effects on the bottom line. The key for HR and L&D teams is to get your people the training they need.

Addressing the data skills gap

“Greater clarity is needed in describing data skills required by industry, which will help assessment of individual skill sets and will ensure a better match of new recruits to company requirements.”

In theory, the flow of insights and information through the pyramid enables effective, data-driven decision making throughout the organisation. However, the shortage of fundamental data skills throughout the workforce creates a disconnect between the highly skilled Experts and the rest of the community, resulting in only 32% of companies reporting being able to realise tangible and measurable value from their data. Developing the skills of the employees in the Producers and Users categories closes that gap and maximises the value of organisational data.

Addressing this issue by improving data literacy is expected to become a fundamental pillar of over 80% of organisations’ data analytics strategies over the coming years (Gartner 2019).

‘Users’ of data need to be able to:
• Strip out manual processes that take up precious time, by automating reports in Excel, Power BI or Tableau
• Select, produce and present the right charts and graphs for the job using Data Visualisation tools
• Consistently produce reliable, high quality, validated data sets
• Be confident in handling data securely and safely
• Use data to predict trends and identify potential risks/opportunities
• Know how to draw intelligent insights from large amounts of data
• Reduce reliance on other teams to help with data analysis
• Tell a compelling story through data and influence stakeholders

Learn more: Corndel Data Professional Diploma

‘Producers’ of data need to be able to:

• Understand a range of database technologies
• Effectively use relational databases
• Code with SQL to extract data from relational databases
• Use Python or R to create repeatable processes and perform machine learning
• Apply machine learning techniques including regression, clustering and time series analysis
• Manage data analytics projects end-to-end
• Effectively communicate insights with a range of stakeholders

Learn more: Corndel Data Analytics Diploma

Why Corndel?

Corndel works with leading UK retailers including Pret, Asda, MATCHESFASHION, Planet Organic, Joules and ASOS. We have the highest learner satisfaction and employer satisfaction rates in the country, as recognised by ESFA. At the heart of our programmes are dedicated, highly experienced coaches who have all been data scientists and analysts in similar retail environments.

We work with you to create tailored programmes that meet your organisational needs, and the requirements of the apprenticeship levy.

Find out more: Launching an Autumn 2021 Data Academy

Ask us for more information about launching a Levy funded Data Academy at your organisation this Autumn.

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