Democratising data analytics education

Democratising data analytics education

Microsoft and Springboard have developed an online programme to teach thousands of people

Rebecca Gibson |

After spending 16 years as a risk analyst, Mariko Egami decided to try and achieve her dream of becoming a data analyst. Initially, she used online resources to teach herself about advanced data analytics and business intelligence, but soon realised that she needed to enrol in an online course to help her develop the required skills. After months of research, Egami finally found what she had been looking for: a six-month, entry-level data analytics programme co-created by Microsoft and online education provider Springboard.

First launched in 2019, the Data Analytics Career Track is designed to make it easier for people to develop the critical skills and competencies they need to be successful in data ­analytics-related job roles.

“Organisations have realised the benefits of leveraging data to make better business decisions, so they’re generating, collecting and storing more data than ever before,” says Gautum Tambay, co-founder and CEO of Springboard. “However, there’s a significant lack of people who know how to mine this data for insights, so we designed a comprehensive data analytics course to bridge that skills gap.”

Students don’t need any prior knowledge of analytics, coding or statistics. They will use videos, project-based learning, mentor-led sessions and over 400 hours’ worth of Microsoft-approved content to learn about Microsoft Excel, Python, SQL, visualisation and other analytics tools. They will also be taught how to identify, understand and solve business problems using data, and how to communicate their findings to various stakeholders.

“We bring a wealth of expertise in data analytics and a suite of Azure tools, which means students have access to quality content and industry-standard tools that they will use throughout their entire careers,” says Ed Steidl, director of workforce partnerships at Microsoft. “We aim to train 5,000 students for data analytics roles over the next three years and equip the workforce of the future with the necessary skills to succeed in the digital economy.”

Microsoft’s involvement was an attractive factor for Egami. She also liked that the curriculum extends beyond technical skills to focus on areas where employers find the biggest gaps, such as strategic thinking, problem-solving and communication.

“One of the critical things I learned is that data analysis is not just describing data beautifully; you must also be able to use analysis and visualisation tools to gain insights that can be used to solve business challenges and make better decisions,” says Egami. “When presenting these findings, you have to tell a clear story that is easy for everyone in both technical and non-technical roles to understand. Springboard’s presentation course helped me to practice these skills.” 

However, Egami is not the only student to have boosted her data analytics skills with the help of the programme. Another is Mario Lacerda, who says he learned a range of other valuable skills too.

“Any level of technical capability you might have pales in comparison to your willingness to work with others and learn something new,” he says. “You might be the best coder on your block, but if you don’t work well with others, you’re not going to find very many doors open to you. The other thing I discovered is that information is great and insights are even better, but they’re not worth much if they aren’t actionable. Anything you bring to the table as far as data analysis and exploration must have next steps.”

Student enrolment on the Data Analytics Career Track is increasing. The monthly cohort size has grown 280 per cent since it first launched in August 2019. Tambay attributes its popularity to Springboard’s human-centric approach to learning. 

“We understand that it’s tough to change careers and learn new skills, so we support our students every step of the way,” he says. “We match each one with a personal mentor – an industry professional working in their chosen field – who provides weekly feedback to keep the student motivated and on track.” 

Egami credits her personal mentor with giving her the confidence to learn topics and skills on her own. “I’d never taken an online course and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to complete it because there was a lot of self-directed learning, but my personal mentor supported me throughout,” she says. “Springboard also provided various channels where I could ask other students for help.”

Another big draw for many of Springboard’s students is that they are guaranteed to find a job within six months of graduation.

“We’ve pioneered a learning model that has enabled thousands of successful career transitions into the most in-demand technology fields,” says Tambay. “Unlike most online learning companies, we focus on employability and supporting our participants to get hired after graduation. Since Springboard was founded, 94 per cent of our eligible graduates have secured a job within one year, earning an average salary increase of $26,000.”

The job guarantee plus the short duration of the course were two of the main factors that encouraged Lacerda to sign up. “I knew I wouldn’t have to wait years to be able to change my career and the deferred tuition option of the job guarantee also meant I could upskill even though I was unemployed at the time,” he explains.

Shortly after graduating, Lacerda was appointed as a business analyst at Communication Concepts Integration, a company that delivers products and services that use vision-based machine learning. “Having the Springboard certification on my resume let my employer know that they could trust my baseline abilities, even before an interview took place,” says Lacerda. “Thanks to this course, I also knew I had the right skills and personality to make a difference in any environment.”

Egami has been similarly successful, securing a position as a business data analyst at JFC International, a wholesaler and distributor of Asian food products in the USA. 

“My Springboard career coach helped me to create a professional resume and LinkedIn profile, advised me on how to find the right job roles, provided interview training, and constantly encouraged and motivated me,” she says. “Switching career after 16 years and completing an intensive Springboard course while working full time was challenging, but it empowered me with the skills and knowledge to become something I’ve always wanted to be.”

Springboard and Microsoft are committed to helping millions of people like Egami and Lacerda to boost their digital skills and achieve their career goals through both the Data Analytics Career Track and multiple other education initiatives. In the near future, Springboard and Microsoft’s Data Analytics Career Track will incorporate Microsoft Learn content to provide students with the ability to prepare for an industry-recognised Microsoft certification in Data Analysis. 

“We’re in the middle of the largest global labour market shift in more than a century, with millions of displaced workers looking to make the difficult transition into new in-demand careers,” explains Tambay. “However, the rate at which technology progresses makes it impractical for people to earn a new master’s degree every time they switch jobs – and it’s unfeasible for employers to wait so long for new talent. Springboard’s online learning model is uniquely positioned to help with this by democratising digital skills education for the workforce, as well as universities and employers who need help navigating today’s new economic reality.

When Springboard’s rigorous, real-world curriculum and human-centric approach to learning is combined with Microsoft’s industry-leading data analytics tools and resources, we have the power and expertise to train and support the next crop of data analyst trailblazers.” 

This article was originally published in the Autumn 2020 issue of The Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.

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