Alteryx & McLaren Racing datathon accelerates data skills

With the need for data skills on the rise, initiatives like Alteryx’s SparkED programme can help upskill employees with the ability to use data analytics

With the ever-increasing advancement and adoption of technology, consumers and businesses are generating more data than ever before. As technological progress continues, the demand for data skills is rising.

As strong data capabilities become more important, employers are looking for professionals with skills in the architecture, retrieval, and analysis of large sets of data.

For many executives, data analytics can be the difference between being beaten by the competition or making the informed decisions that lead to success. And according to a McKinsey survey, when asked where the greatest need to address any skills shortages exists, most respondents named data analytics.

As a result, businesses must rethink their strategy when it comes to talent acquisition and retention. This new approach must start with upskilling knowledge workers and employees with the ability to use data analytics in their roles.

Through its SparkED programme, data analytics platform Alteryx aims to empower all learners to question, understand and solve problems with data, in every field of study and in preparation for any industry.

A partner of the McLaren Racing, earlier this year the two organisations hosted a unique Datathon at the McLaren Technology Centre, inviting students from universities across the UK to compete in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to analyse real-world data from the McLaren F1 team. Students qualified through a series of individual ‘escape room’ challenges, with finalists participating in the data analytics Grand Prix event and getting a behind-the-scenes tour and look at the historical collection of McLaren Racing cars.

As Libby Duane Adams, Chief Advocacy Officer at Alteryx, explains, data analytics is now a required job skill. One of Alteryx’s Co-founders, her role today is about advocating for data analytics and being comfortable and familiar with data.

“McLaren is one example of a very public and global brand that knows the importance of data analytics,” she explains. “They drive their cars that way. They train their drivers that way. They run the business that way. Data is in HR, it's in marketing, it's in supply chain, it's in logistics. It is literally across any enterprise.

“This kind of an event brings awareness to the next generation that's happening now of why data analytics is now a required job skill. These skills that these learners are developing are going to help them not only in their college career - but also in that first job landing - to be able to say that they're developing knowledge and their data analytics talent.”

Helping build data and analytics skills

As Jason Belland, VP at Alteryx explains, the SparkED education programme is designed to help customers meet the market’s need for data skills.

“We do three things. One is we work directly with learners, so some of the learners that you're going to see here today, to help them upscale both on analytics education, technology agnostic analytics education, as well as on tool specific Alteryx education,” he explains.

The programme also works with colleges and universities globally to help advance data skills. “We've got about a thousand universities that we're working with globally in 50 countries right now to help them infuse analytics education into their curriculum, as well as doing work with student groups and others around the core curriculum to make sure that every student is graduating with education in analytics.

“The third thing we do is we work with our global customers, including McLaren and many others to help connect them with students and enable students to seek opportunities in analytics across those companies.”

Addressing the data skills gap

As Adams explains, initiatives like the datathon can help address the data skills gap. As more people with these skills enter the market, this will have the effect of speeding up businesses’ analytic transformation. “When you have an employee or future employee who starts on day one and is already productive in one part of their job, you’re investing in teaching them your business. You're not investing in teaching them software because they've already come in with these skills.

“You've also brought somebody in who already understands analytics from a learning perspective. That helps them jumpstart the analytics within the organisation and those processes. As your current employee base sees this talent coming in, it helps them enable that onboarding of that new employee. And it all ramps that digital transformation that so many of our customers are working on now.”

“It's about the skills, and the technology, and understanding how to use the tools, but also having that digital transformation or the data analytics mindset coming in,” Belland adds. “The folks that are going through our programme aren't just learning data skills. They're learning about analytics, how to ask the right questions, how to question and solve problems with data.

“So now you're coming into an organisation not only knowing the tools, but actually asking really interesting questions that help organisations who've invested in technology actually start to affect change across the organisation and take an analytics approach across functions within the business.”

Data skills to be needed across every enterprise

“Globally, I have the privilege of speaking to business leaders everywhere,” Adams comments. “The energy around data and analytics has really been fueled by what's happened over these last couple of years. Because that was a global impact, business leaders are saying that they are doing more and we will continue to do more with data.

“We see the growth of analytics and the requirements of these skills growing across every enterprise. With SparkED we want to take the number of learners that we're impacting and really exponentially scale that. It's not just learners that are in the classroom, whether that's a higher education programme or in secondary education, but also those learners that didn't have the privilege of learning data analytics early in their career.”

Data analytics used to be reserved for just a few in the company that were data ready. But data analytics in a true data-driven organisation has to be able to be serving every decision. “Whether it's HR, supply chain finance, operations, information security teams, marketing, sales, and so on, every one of those teams has to be able to think with data, and solve with data,” Adams concludes. 

Today, no one is excused from understanding data. “It's not just a business degree, or a data analytics degree, or a finance, or an accounting degree,” she adds. “Because when you're a nurse, you're going to be looking at data. When you are an engineer, or a marketing major or business major, you're going to be looking at data. So we have to make sure, over the next couple of years, that the awareness of data analytics skills can continue to scale across these programmes, and that's our mission.”

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