How Sky and The Smarty Train reinvented early careers through better data

Jan 25, 2022 | Development

ISE Award winners Sky and The Smarty Train share the method behind their data-driven partnership to re-build Sky’s early talent development programme.

The partnership between Sky and The Smarty Train (TST) aimed to re-imagine and re-build Sky’s early talent (ET) development programme.

Together we formulated a novel data-driven, behavioural science-based and market-relevant partnership that resulted in a unique (and uniquely Sky) development experience, anchored in ET, line manager and business needs,

The result was a comprehensive ET development journey, fit-for-purpose, future-ready and flexible to shifting business needs. This was quite literally tested when Covid-19 struck. Our data-driven partnership allowed us to pivot the entire programme to virtual in a few weeks without sacrificing impact, value or experience.

5 ways to create a data-driven partnership

United by the goal to create a graduate programme that would be able to bring Sky’s culture to life, we agreed three key working principles for our partnership: Get comfortable, challenge each other and use data for everything.

This laid the foundation for the five elements of our data-driven approach that would follow:

1. Co-creation

The Smarty Train engaged with business-wide Sky stakeholders at all levels to understand needs and co-create. This meant:

  • Co-creating the development journey with Sky’s ET, line managers and business leaders using careful sampling methods to ensure a holistic and inclusive experience
  • Using design thinking and ethnographic methods to ground data in rigorous methodology.
  • Validating outputs from co-creation with Sky stakeholders.

2. Responsive collaboration

Our data-driven approach enabled responsiveness, agility, and quick pivots once Covid-19 hit. Using data gathered on our ways of working, we adapted during the pandemic:

  • Halved time spent on meetings.
  • Strengthened communications to crystallise responsibility and accountability.
  • Designed new processes for virtual co-creation.
  • Constantly collected and rapidly responded to participant feedback, including 48-hour turnarounds, to ensure participants drew value from the experience and felt valued.

3. Authentic connection

As we were navigating the change and complexity brought by Covid-19 we realised that building a connection grounded in shared purpose and values and equipping ET during challenging times was critical for the programme’s success. We focused our partnership on:

  • Being human first, rather than client-supplier (150+ human check-ins and one in four meetings dedicated to reflection/celebration)
  • Enabling a high level of long-term trust
  • Ensuring a reliable and solid foundation for collaboration

4. Openness and experimentation

The programme’s virtual pivot required we adopt new technologies, with minimal disruption, to design and deliver a stand-out experience for graduates/apprentices and the business. Together we moved to more agile ways of working, always backed by data:

  • Increased scrum-style brainstorms
  • Tested, iterated, evaluated (50+ iterations of designs using new technology without impacting timelines or budget)
  • Embedded a strong feedback loop to ensure we were always learning efficiently

5. Bifocal approach

As an essential service provider, Sky had to address the immediate demands of the pandemic without derailing longer term strategic development imperatives. Through our partnership, Sky and TST:

  • Responded to evolving business needs
  • Ensured longer-term strategic development goals were embedded into everything
  • Continuously researched and identifed key emerging skills for the immediate and long-term



  • 250+ people across Sky engaged in 1500+ hours of collaborative design
  • 238 graduates/apprentices touched through 45+ learning interventions
  • 99% Participants feel confident to try new things and learn new skills
  • 97% would recommend to their peers
  • 98% have a better understanding of how to work successfully in a changing environment

The impact of the partnership can be felt throughout the rest of Sky, too. Sky’s Head of Early Careers noted “TST have redefined what a working partnership should be. Ours is based on innovation, data, and trust.” The partnership went on to be awarded “Outstanding Employer and Supplier Development Partnership” at the ISE Awards 2021.

Through our partnership we have built a strong relationship and continue to share our lessons learned and insights on rapidly pivoting in Covid-19 with our industry peers through webinars, blog posts, and social media.

ISE Awards 2022 are now open for entries

If you run a development programme please complete this year’s ISE Development Survey your responses are invaluable

Was this article helpful?


Share This