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Digital Skills Gap
2 Nov 2016

What is the Digital Skills Gap and How Does It Affect Digital Marketing Roles?

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I recently published an article on Huffington Post entitled: What is the Digital Skills Gap and What Does It Mean for University Graduates of 2017? It’s an important topic and one that is garnering a lot of attention in the UK media, amongst government and in the tech industry. What isn’t described all that often is what the industry means when it refers to digital roles. Everyone agrees that there is a surge in demand for digitally skilled workers – but are we talking about coders and developers only, or does it include digital marketing professionals?

A report entitled Tech Nation 2016 published by Tech City is well worth a read if you are interested in exploring this topic in more depth. They provide a very useful classification when describing the Digital Tech Economy and the roles:

What is the Digital Tech Economy?

It includes all jobs within the Digital Tech Industries and digital tech jobs within traditionally non-digital industries.

There are three job types within the Digital Tech Economy:

  • Native – digital job in digital tech industries e.g. Front end developer in a software company
  • Support – Non-digital job in digital tech-industries e.g. Marketing manager in a data analytics company
  • Transformer – Digital job in traditional industries e.g. Data scientist in the public sector

(Go to page 9 to find this information and more granular detail about the roles and page 116-119 for their methodology)

Clearly from this definition we can see that digital marketing is one of the disciplines affected and the support category accounts for around 36% of the total job types.

Defining the Digital Skills Gap

The Digital Skills Gap is a term popping up in the UK media at an alarming rate, almost as alarming as the phenomenon to which it refers:

A training deficit and shortage of talent and skills in the UK means that there are not enough skilled people to fill the jobs that are being created by our fast growing tech economy. 

By the end of 2017 (that’s just 14 months away) it’s estimated that the UK will need another 750,000 digitally skilled workers, and according to a UK parliamentary report the digital skills gap is costing the UK economy a whopping £63 billion a year in lost gross domestic product.

This shortfall represents a real opportunity. The UK has the fastest growing internet-based economy in the world (when measured as a share of GDP), and jobs are aplenty. However, the dearth of home-grown skilled workers is already leading to employers finding their graduate talent from abroad, and with Brexit imminent the European source of skilled graduates could dry up.

Aren’t the current generation Digital Natives?

I truly sympathise with young people looking for work. The digital skills gap sounds like a nonsense. Surely, the growth in jobs should mean more jobs for everyone, and whatever happened to on –the-job training? The answer is that employers in the digital arena require skills that many of the younger generation do not possess. The young people currently coming through our university system were born as the first generation of ‘digital natives’, yet they lack the core digital skills necessary for work, simply because their parents and their schools didn’t know to teach them.

And it’s not just young people who need to catch up. Today everyone needs digital skills including our parents and grandparents – the ‘digital immigrants’ and ‘digital phobics’ of the world. Would you be surprised to find out that, 12.6 million UK adults lack basic digital skills?

So it’s a pretty bleak picture, but what does all of this mean for the students set to graduate in 2017 and beyond?

Don’t rest on your ‘degree’ laurels

For many industries a degree has not been the golden ticket into employment it once was, and that’s especially true for the digital industries. Unfortunately, university students are not taught the practical skills that employers require, so it’s nigh on impossible to graduate and walk into a digital job without first showing the employer that you have relevant digital skills, as well as some practical experience.

Experience or digital skills?

Today, pretty much every job advert for an entry-level role requires the applicant to have experience, and when employers say ‘experience’ I think they really mean a proven digital skill set – either a qualification, or examples of your own work – have you got a website? It seems unfair that students leave university tens of thousands of pounds in debt from paying for their education, only to be required to work free-of-charge (or for peanuts) in order to get the necessary digital skills.

And you’re going to need a diverse skill-set…

If you’re going for a digital marketing role, it’s not enough to be proficient on Twitter, write good copy, and have an eye for detail. Five years ago social media was a nice-to-have on a job spec, now it comes as standard…on every job description whether it’s billed as a social media manager or not.

The fact is that most digital marketing job vacancies require a multitude of skill-sets, and the successful candidates tend to be those with some technical, some creative and some commercial experience.

What about the new skills that you haven’t even heard of?

Who knows what programmatic advertising is? Anybody…? Well forget billboards and TV ads, programmatic advertising is the future, and according to eMarketer it already accounts for 70% of digital display ad spends, that’s £2.76 billion in annual ad spend (a 44% increase on 2015). A large portion of this type of advertising targets mobile platforms, and it is funnelled through social media channels – think the ads that appear on your newsfeed. If you are interested in learning more about this register your interest on our mobile marketing course.

Under-prepared for the digital revolution

What this means is that all of us in the UK are way behind where we should be. Children born today will grow up with the latest technology, they’ll most likely ditch their dollies in favour of a robot pal – they’re web-savvy and will be taught to code in schools, but what of our workforce today, who are under-prepared for the digital revolution?

Finding a Digital Skills Gap solution

The UK needs a commitment from industry, government and policymakers to teach the necessary digital skills to the young people coming through the ranks as well as upskilling the talent that is here looking for roles right now. Companies like Makers Academy, Decoded, Digital Futures and, of course, us have launched training and mentoring programmes in response to this digital deficit, and more are sure to follow.

My advice for The Graduates of 2017 and beyond

To some extent, it’s clear that society has let you down, albeit unintentionally. You were not taught the skills you actually need at school, or in most cases at university. Being digitally literate is utterly important for everyone. But now is the time to seize the opportunity. There is a very real surge in demand for talent and digital skills in the UK tech economy. My advice?

Ignore your student debt for a while. Use this opportunity to sharpen your digital nous.

If you are interested in any of our training courses you can sign-up for our Search Engine Marketing Training today, or register your interest for our other digital marketing training courses which will be launching shortly. 

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