By Raymond Martin

THE power of academic learning combined with business is incredible.

For me, it’s had a transformative impact on my career. When I first started in customer insights, my knowledge was superficial and developed through on-the-job learning. I was self-taught when it came to data-driven insights, using in-house processes and workplace training, but I hadn’t developed the skills needed to be able to think about the wider picture.

Completing an MSc in Data Science at Edinburgh Napier University, through The Data Lab, has allowed me to progress significantly in my field.

That’s just my experience, granted. But the numbers speak for themselves. In a 2016 government study, 87 per cent of employers agreed that they witnessed better business performance due to investing in vocational qualifications, and 78% noticed improved staff retention.

In a 2019 Education and Skills Survey report by CBI and Pearson, nearly half (45%) of employers cited an employee demand for further learning. Yet, the Employers and Lifelong Learning (2019) report from CBI found that employer investment in training was lower than before the 2008 financial crisis. With the UK Commission for Employment and Skills predicting that roughly 15% of jobs (1 in 7) are likely to need a postgraduate degree by 2022, it’s more important than ever that training and education does not fall to the side.

As we begin to slowly emerge from the wrath of the coronavirus pandemic, businesses are reeling with cost-cutting and redundancies looming for many. It’s an uncertain time, but if employers want to help save as many jobs as possible, retraining and reskilling should be a core focus.

Look at how engineers and manufacturers were quickly able to turn their hand to making ventilators; or distilleries to producing batches of hand sanitiser instead of whisky when the pandemic reared its head. Adaptability is key to business survival, but a strong workforce is the cornerstone to success.

Employers should foster an atmosphere that encourages their employees to seek and enter higher education part-time. Myriad benefits outweigh the potential costs involved.

In fact, there may be access to funding and grants to support training at a post-graduate or Masters level - The Data Lab, Scotland’s innovation centre for data and AI, runs several data-related courses in partnership with 12 universities in Scotland, and can help with funding too.

Any time or money invested in continual professional development and further education is returned tenfold in value by a member of staff who can bring a renewed energy, fresh approach, and the most up-to-date methods to their work. Many courses, including my course through Edinburgh Napier University, offer part-time and remote study, meaning minimal disruption is caused to the working day.

Investing in your workforce greatly reduces staff turnover, saving a huge amount of money, given that the cost of replacing an employee is thought to exceed £30,000.

As we enter a new period of economic uncertainty, it feels more important than ever to foster further learning in the workplace.

If not right now, investment in training, upskilling, and reskilling should be considered in the months and years to come, allowing staff to manage more than one discipline, and future proofing your business against a similar impact.

From developing staff to become more confident in their roles, to retraining or reskilling existing staff to take on new roles, or bringing in innovative new solutions that you might otherwise have never come across, the benefits certainly outweigh any reservations.

Raymond Martin is a graduate of The Data Lab’s MSc Programme at Edinburgh Napier University