How to Solve the Digital Skill Gap? Invest in Education and Training

October 28, 2016 — by Maria Brugel    

At the beginning of this month, New Marketing Institute (NMI) EMEA held its inaugural Marketing Engineer Program (MEP) showcase event in London. We couldn’t have asked for a better first experience – whether it was through great guest speakers, valuable conversations, or Marketing Engineers telling their stories – we were able to connect with a diverse audience who shared in our commitment to talent and education. But let me start from the top.

MEP is MediaMath’s immersive three-month training program, which aims to develop highly skilled programmatic campaign managers with a solid grasp of the ecosystem and upon graduation, they are able to step into full-time roles within the digital marketing and ad tech industries. Our third London cohort is soon to graduate and the aim for the showcase event was to connect current participants with hiring organizations, from the likes of Affiperf, Omnicom, TVTY and Index Exchange, as well as to elevate the conversations with ad tech and media industry partners around digital skills gap.

The afternoon was kicked off by our excellent guest speakers, including Josh McBain, Head of Innovation at Future Foundation and Kristin Brewe, Advertising Lecturer at University of West London. McBain presented insights from a 2016 research paper on the education and skills required for the future. Besides the interesting data, two things really stood out for me.

Firstly, the future is defined by liquid skills and learning a new skill is becoming a form for younger generations. Secondly, while global technology adoption is only set to grow with the emergence of artificial intelligence, advanced robotics and 3D printing, only 34 percent of young people in the UK are feeling ‘very confident’ about having necessary skills for a successful career.

While UK digital ad spend was at £8.6 billion in 2015, the shortage of digital skills represents a bottleneck for the industry. The problem stems from the constantly expanding range of digital technologies and new skill sets associated with them, and inability of the education sector to keep up with the speed of the industry. As a lecturer, Brewe was well positioned to speak on this lack of awareness among graduates despite the number of opportunities in the digital sector, particularly in programmatic.

So, what are my takeaways? The digital skills gap is real and the industry needs to look for practical ways to address this challenge. Here are my two cents’ worth:

  • We can, and should, be more proactive in partnering with educational institutions to talk about careers in the ad tech and media sectors – whether through employability sessions, guest lectures, or directly engaging with STEM students. Creative Data Academy, run by IDM and NMI guest lectures for students at Birkbeck University are just two examples.
  • We need to be more open-minded when it comes to hiring talent. While it requires less effort to on-board a more experienced candidate, by closing the doors to fresh graduates or career changers, we are creating further barriers for employment. As a result, we are missing out on some great talent. Be it programmatic trading, PPC or social media management – these skills and knowledge can be taught through a structured on-boarding framework. MediaMath achieves this through Marketing Engineer Program, where participants learn several subject areas through class-room training, job shadowing and self-driven projects. The results speak for themselves – 64 global graduates over the past two years with 100 percent job offers in digital marketing.
  • We are a creative industry, so let’s think creatively and work collaboratively. There are great agency-focused initiatives such as AdMission by IPA, or graduate programs at individual agencies, but these can benefit a lot from the expertise of ad tech. Things like Lumascape or workings of a demand-side platform can be overwhelming, so why not involve the tech and data partners to explain it first-hand?

At the end of the day, the industry talent pool is limited and people tend to move around between agencies and tech companies. Why not work together to raise the bar for everyone to benefit from?