Data Apprentice Excel-ed Beyond Expectations at The Rugby Football League

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In our latest case study, we caught up with Senior Data Analyst, Matt Turner from The Rugby Football League to hear all about his experiences of hiring a Data Apprentice 👇🏼

The Rugby Football League (RFL)

The Rugby Football League (RFL) is the governing body for rugby league in England. The organisation is responsible for all Rugby League in England from grassroots level to professional competitions, such as Betfred Super League, RFL Championship, and RFL League 1.

Despite how impactful the organisation is, it maintains a relatively small hierarchy and the Data team is made up of 3 team members. Together, the Director of Insight Data and Strategic Projects, Senior Data Analyst, and Data Analyst Apprentice make up the entirety of the data team. They are responsible for collecting, analysing, and presenting The Rugby Football League’s entire database, undertaking everything from reporting and performance analysis to strategic planning.

Hiring an Apprentice

For The Rugby Football League, the decision to hire a data apprentice arose after a significant increase in workload, which as a result, meant increased pressure on Senior Data Analyst, Matt. The team evaluated the team structure and business needs and decided they needed to hire an additional analyst to support Matt.

“As a senior data analyst for the past two years, my role has evolved from initially working solo to now collaborating with Harry, who we hired due to increasing workloads, particularly concerning data analysis and report generation.”

Early into the recruitment process, it became evident that the company did not require another Senior Data Analyst. Matt needed someone with a comprehensive understanding of Excel and reporting-building capabilities to support him with time-consuming tasks while he focused on larger projects, so they began looking for a junior analyst.

As opposed to hiring a recent graduate, the team wanted to bring in an apprentice to pick up time-consuming tasks. For the team, it was appealing that apprentices are dedicated to improving their skills through courses that are directly tied to their jobs, as opposed to learning base knowledge at university that may or may not be applicable.

Harry’s passion for learning and practical skills, such as fixing cars in his spare time, impressed them during his interview. Initially shy, the team saw his potential – and Harry quickly became a confident team member, actively engaging in discussions and leading meetings. Harry continued to go from strength to strength, from being unfamiliar with basic software to mastering Python coding.

“From my perspective, the difference between going to university and starting as an apprentice, like Harry did, is quite distinct.

University often feels like ticking a box — you go because you’re unsure of what you want to do, but you believe you need it on your CV to secure a job. With an apprenticeship, the focus is on the job itself.”

This approach was extremely cost-effective for The Rugby Football League as the team were able to address workload demands while mitigating high salary costs.

Ultimately, the decision to hire an apprentice as opposed to a graduate or Senior Analyst was successful, as it was a cost-effective route to resolve internal issues, which highlights the importance of considering personality, interests, soft skills, and practical abilities alongside traditional qualifications while recruiting for a role.

Responsibilities of a Data Analyst Apprentice in a Sports Organisation

The Rugby Football League hired Data apprentice, Harry, to support their Senior Analyst, Matt, with time-consuming tasks, but Harry quickly exceeded expectations. He quickly mastered basic tasks and began offering additional support to the team; completing ad-hoc requests for other departments, such as providing commercial data or TV viewing figures for media releases, etc.

Harry focuses on analysing sports participation figures, including Sport England’s efforts to boost player numbers, liaising with teams, and managing programmes and reports.

“Typically at the start of the week, as a team, we build a weekly report which looks at all the attendance and viewing figures across the sport over the weekend, mainly the professional games.

Harry and I both work on that together, typically because it’s quite an important report that we want to make sure is executed correctly and done as quickly as possible.”

To build the report, Harry gathers data from various sources and occasionally he will contact clubs or stakeholders to fill in missing information. Then, he is required to update the participation database and generate reports for different league organisers. Harry updates a Power BI dashboard, and colleagues provide feedback before it is shared with heads of partner organisations during weekly meetings, which often leads to requests for data analysis to inform investment decisions or strategic planning.

Harry’s Impact

Through his apprenticeship training and passion for learning, Harry quickly adapted to The Rugby Football Leagues workflow and now handles tasks independently at a professional standard. His technical expertise has streamlined their processes, and he regularly suggests more efficient methods for completing tasks.

“Harry has significantly contributed to our team’s growth and productivity over the past few years. When we initially interviewed him, his potential stood out among other candidates.”

Since Harry joined The Rugby Football League, he has addressed several company challenges, particularly in managing SQL databases. Previously, the team relied on an external company to handle their databases, but they wanted someone proficient in SQL internally. Harry has shown remarkable growth in this area, having dedicated himself to learning SQL extensively.

In the past month, Harry made significant progress in accessing the database and understanding it. For his mentor, Matt, Harry’s professional growth has been impressive to witness, and it bodes well for the company’s future work.

During his Level 3 Junior Data Analyst apprenticeship, Harry made a lasting impact on business operations by resolving a challenging issue with complicated Ticketmaster data using his data cleaning skills and a comprehensive UK postcode database, saving considerable manual effort.

 “Harry was able to match up all of the ticket data postcodes to the UK postcode database, which now means when someone buys a ticket we can understand where they are from, what town or city they are from, all the way to their latitude and longitude of where they are.

Previously, we would have had to map it out differently and not every postcode matched. This has had a really big impact on how we now work.”

This enhancement has revolutionised their ability to analyse ticket sales, providing insights into customer demographics and event popularity. Harry’s initiative and skill in implementing this solution have greatly improved their workflow efficiency and decision-making processes.

Additionally, Harry significantly contributed to EDI policies and procedures by analysing large data sets to examine diversity in sports. His work included identifying clubs with low diversity, leading to targeted support such as new initiatives or increased family zones.

Collaborating with the inclusion lead, Harry’s analysis of demographics among match officials, volunteers, and coaches informed strategies for greater diversity and set new targets. Harry’s efforts highlight the power of data in promoting inclusivity and informed decisions in sports.

Supporting a Data Analyst Apprentice

Despite some misconceptions, which assume apprentices require a lot of mentorship – apprentices require a similar amount of mentorship and support as anyone starting a new position.

As his primary mentor, Senior Data Analyst Matt provides guidance when needed, especially in problem-solving or understanding concepts. To support Harry with his growth and development, The Rugby Football League conducts quarterly action development meetings where they outline areas Harry wants to improve, ranging from technical skills to gaining more hands-on experience.

Advice for Sports Organisations

Matt believes that sports organisations shouldn’t hesitate to explore the potential of hiring data apprentices, as passion and dedication can often compensate for any lack of initial expertise in a specific field.

“Typically, people want to work in sports organisations because they are passionate, and they are going to have more motivation to do well in that job.”

When considering hiring a data apprentice in the sports sector, Matt’s advice would be to seize the opportunity.

“In my opinion, it’s definitely worth taking that opportunity.”

During the recruitment process, Matt initially had doubts about how the apprenticeship would unfold. However, Matt said, like any job, it’s about the right attitude, willingness to learn, strong desire and dedication. Ultimately, it comes down to the individual’s character and openness to learning.