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Acquiring the data talent needed to achieve your data strategy

CDOs need to educate teams across an organisation and ensure a robust data strategy is in place to capitalise on the transformative insights available.
Data professional working on a computer to achieve a data strategy.

A robust data strategy is integral to any organisation’s success today. Only by educating workforces in data analysis can businesses capitalise on the transformative insights that are now available to them. 

In fact, a McKinsey survey suggests that organisations that heavily use customer analytics are 23 times more likely to outperform their competitors that don’t in terms of acquiring new customers.  

Take Starbucks, for example. The brand uses data in many intelligent ways to personalise the customer experience, optimise supply chain processes and use location-based data analysis to determine which areas are likely to result in profitable new stores. 

The company’s earnest data strategy has enabled Starbucks to become a global brand boasting 90 million transactions per week, with around 28% of its US orders coming from Starbucks app.


Why data skills are key to a solid data strategy 

Having a team that possesses the right data skills can help any organisation flourish, not just international brands like Starbucks.  

But first things first, why is a solid data strategy essential? 

Effective data strategy is crucial to most organisation’s success in a few key areas:

  1. Data governance: Ensuring the quality of data and compliance with regulatory standards, such as GDPR.
  2. Data integration: Simplifying the process of combining data from various sources into a single, unified view. This approach reduces inefficiencies caused by having siloed data scattered across different systems.
  3. Data utilisation: Employing data to generate actionable insights that are in line with business objectives, leading to substantial business impacts.

Top three challenges of a CDO 

Chief data officers aiming to execute their data strategies are increasingly recognising the urgent need for relevant data skills within their organisations.  

A 2022 Deloitte survey highlights what CDOs regard as their top three challenges when it comes to their data strategies:

  1. Communicating effectively with the executive committee – CDOs often struggle to successfully communicate useful insights in terms non-data professionals can easily understand. This hinders data’s influence on decision making within their organisations.
  2. Limited data skills – CDOs report that their teams lack the adequate skills to transform data into actionable insights for their businesses.
  3. Constrained by data literacy – CDOs report that their teams are not able to read, write and understand data. 
Three pie charts.
Three pie charts examining the top challenges of CDOs.

How to acquire the right data talent to overcome CDO challenges 

Recruiting new employees into a business is often seen as a painless method to bridge the data skills gap in an organisation. However, approaches such as using specialist recruiting agencies can come with significant expenses and hidden costs too. 

As of December 2022, data from the Office for National Statistics estimates the average annual salary for full-time workers in Great Britain is £32,760. And recruitment agencies typically charge between 10% and 30% of the employee’s initial salary, leading to costs ranging from £3,276 to £9,828 per new hire. 

Moreover, the risk of new hires not lasting long enough to realise a return on this investment is substantial. Nearly 50% of new employees do not succeed beyond the first 18 months of employment. 

According to a report by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the cost of replacing a salaried employee can amount to 6 to 9 months of their salary.  

So how can you acquire the right data talent for your team without these additional costs? 


Upskilling with data apprenticeships 

Organisations are increasingly recognising the value of enhancing the skills of their current workforce with apprenticeship programmes as a cost-effective alternative to hiring new staff.  

This trend is evident in the findings of the IBM Institute for Business Value’s “2023 Chief Data Officer Study: Turning data into value,” which surveyed 3,000 CDOs.  

Among these, 8% were classified as value creator CDOs, who, despite lower spending on data strategy and management, reported equal or higher annual revenue growth than their counterparts.  

Most importantly, these CDOs attributed their success to several key actions, including expanded training and reskilling initiatives to boost data literacy within their organisations. 

Upskilling with data analyst apprenticeships, in particular, offers several benefits:

  1. Boosting productivity: Upskilling in data-related areas has been shown to enhance workplace productivity. In fact, according to a Talent LMS survey91% of companies and 81% of employees say upskilling or reskilling training has boosted productivity at work.
  2. Enabling hub-and-spoke models: By training employees from various departments in data literacy and analytics skills, organisations can ease the strain on their advanced data teams, allowing them to focus on more complex tasks and become value drivers.
  3. Adapting to evolving technologies: A 2023 McKinsey report highlights the transformative potential of generative AI technologies in data analytics and other sectors. Upskilling is crucial to keep pace with these technological advancements.
  4. Maintaining competitive advantage: A Deloitte report underscores the ongoing high demand for data analytics professionals, emphasising the importance of upskilling to meet this demand and maintain a competitive edge.
  5. Retaining top talent: Investing in upskilling not only benefits employees but also contributes positively to a company’s bottom line by improving employee retention, productivity, and profitability. 


CDOs looking to future-proof their data strategy should consider the potential of upskilling and reskilling their existing workforce.  


Funding through the UK Apprenticeship Levy 

At this point, you may be wondering how much these upskilling programmes will cost and how you’ll ever get budget approval? Well, the following bit might surprise you. 

If your organisation pays into the UK Apprenticeship Levy, there is actually no additional cost for your organisation to use these apprenticeships for upskilling.

The UK Apprenticeship Levy is a tax-funded levy first introduced in April 2017 and is aimed at funding apprenticeship programmes across the country. It requires all employers with an annual pay bill over £3 million to contribute 0.5% of their total pay bill to the levy.   

This contribution is ring-fenced and accessible only to finance apprenticeship training.  


What if your organisation doesn’t pay into the Levy?  

Companies with yearly payrolls below £3 million, which are exempt from contributing to the levy, are still eligible for government-supported apprenticeship schemes for their employees.   

The UK government commits to funding 95% of apprenticeship programmes’ costs. As a result, your organisation will only be required to invest a maximum of 5% towards the overall cost of an apprenticeship, extending greater access to upskilling to smaller organisations. 



Despite the hurdles of inadequate data literacy and skill shortages, data apprenticeships present a practical and affordable approach to building effective data teams within organisations.

Apprenticeships reduce the risks linked to recruiting external personnel and help promote a culture that values data. For CDOs aiming to secure their data strategies for the future, data apprenticeships are an essential resource.


Are you looking to upskill your workforce so your organisation can excel in the age of data and AI? Get in touch with Cambridge Spark and transform the way your teams work with data together. 

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