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Data in the world of marketing: Jay Tillotson’s story

Jay Tillotson

We recently spoke to marketing PPC manager, Jay Tillotson, who recently completed the Data Technician Level 3 apprenticeship with Kaplan. She talked us through her journey of discovering the value of data, and how her newfound skills are helping her in her marketing career.

Can you tell us about your career so far and why you started an apprenticeship?

I started working in digital marketing in SEO from around 2007. I knew absolutely nothing about spreadsheets or data, or anything really, except how to build a link in HTML.

I taught myself how to do some of the basic stuff on Excel using formulas, and then I moved over to the PPC side of marketing after around five years. I then realised that there was all this data out there that I needed to be using.

When working in PPC, it’s important to have data manipulation skills so that you can make sense of it all. Because, otherwise, you’re just manually working through hundreds and hundreds of rows on a spreadsheet. For many years, I was teaching myself how to do things through Google search, and I found that I was quite good at using Google to find the formulas that I needed. So, before the apprenticeship, it was all self-taught.

Then one day, when the apprenticeship with Kaplan came up, my manager asked me if I was interested so I just signed up for it.

As you already had some skills, how did you find it overall?

Once we had completed the Excel module, which was quite early on in the apprenticeship, the in-depth data side of it was when my learning really started. A lot of it was definitely very new to me. For example, I’d never used tools like Power BI before, but now I use it for everything.

Understanding the concepts of why we present data in specific ways was new to me too. The Excel and spreadsheet side was a much smaller part of the apprenticeship, so it didn’t feel like I had a huge advantage, especially in terms of understanding data.

But I did find it easy a lot of the time because I found it interesting. When you’re really interested in something, it’s always going to be easier to learn it.

Can you explain a bit more about what Power BI is?

It’s essentially a reporting suite or a reporting tool. It’s a piece of software and a Microsoft product which connects to hundreds of different data sources, most of which I had never heard of. You can basically use it to create visualisations, such as graphs, charts, tables and interactive elements which help you tell a data story.

So it’s good to use to analyse performance, answer a data question, or just share and present that information to people.

How did you find the structure of your apprenticeship?

Online learning

I studied through Live Online, and we had several assignments throughout the course, which was nice as we got regular feedback to know how we can improve going forward.

I would say that I found the assignment side of things more challenging. In general, if I found that I didn’t 100% understand what was required, I would go to pieces. But after contacting my Talent Coach, he would sit with me to work through the sheet and help me work out whatever the issue was.

Apprenticeship portfolio

Throughout the apprenticeship I would work through the assignments in different modules while putting together a portfolio of different work. This is essentially a collection that ticks all of the boxes that you need to meet in order to pass the apprenticeship. There would be projects that I found useful to apply to my day-to-day role. For example, one of them included reporting with Power BI, so I could build a report in my job that also contributed towards my apprenticeship.

The apprenticeship gateway is the period between completing the actual training and the End-Point Assessment (EPA) with the external assessor. It’s a good time to get feedback on the projects in your portfolio, make sure you’ve included evidence of as many knowledge, skills and behaviour criteria as you can, and also expand on areas to tick off a few more.

Once your Talent Coach thinks you’re ready, they’ll book you in for your EPA. Gateway gave me the opportunity to answer questions about what was in my portfolio, as well as questions to make sure that I understood any other criteria that may not be evidenced.

Online task

I also had a task, similar to the other assignments, but the assessor can see your screen and you have thirty minutes to complete the task, followed by a fifteen minute discussion. They will then ask you questions on why you answered things a certain way where you can discuss what you would have done differently if you struggled with the time.

Overall, it was intense. It’s the third apprenticeship that I’ve done but they all follow a similar structure regardless. You need to show competency in order to pass, and showcase your knowledge, skills and behaviours while providing evidence that you can meet the criteria.

How did your data apprenticeship help with your current role?

I think the understanding of data really helped, the apprenticeship teaches you how to use that data to tell a story and critically analyse and interpret it. For example, you learn how to ask the right questions, or interrogate it you could say, to really understand what it’s telling you.

There’s now a big difference regarding my day-to-day job as I can visually detail everything that I need to, edit it down and have a clear purpose behind each report. So, I’m able to tell stakeholders exactly what they want or need to know rather than just giving them everything to decipher.

Not only that, but I can be provided with a data sequence and assess whether it is correct or misleading. So, this understanding has probably been the main impact that it’s had on my job, other than the use of software like Power BI.

Would you recommend an apprenticeship to others?

Absolutely. One of the good things about an apprenticeship is that it’s open to anyone. As long as you’re over 18 and not on another training programme, I believe you can do an apprenticeship.

There are also so many different subjects available. It doesn’t matter if you’re older, or what your background is. As long as you think you can do it, then the sky's the limit.

You’re also getting paid to learn, rather than leaving education with a huge amount of debt, so that’s a bonus.

There’s a lot more awareness surrounding apprenticeships now, but some people do still see it as just available for jobs that require manual or physical labour, but that’s not the case.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

One thing that I’d like to highlight in favour of apprenticeships is that if you’re not sure what you want to do, an apprenticeship isn’t as big of a commitment as you think. I think a lot of people are afraid of the commitment, but with university, for example, you’re committing to a specific subject, a set amount of years and a lot of money.

With an apprenticeship, you can usually complete it in around 18 months, and if you decide that it’s not for you, then you still have the time to figure out what it is that you want and go from there. You can also continue to build on your apprenticeship. For example, I’m in the data field, but I work in marketing - I’m not a data analyst. But if I wanted to move into a data analyst role, I now have that foundation to build from and move into that area.

You can try anything and go as far as you want to and it’ll never be a waste of time or money.

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