This summer's Digital Marketing Graduate Academy gave us the opportunity to meet some of the people who will be shaping our industry in years to come. But while they spent time in the classroom, what did we learn?
Having fought off competition from over 1,500 applicants, this year's Graduate Academy intake were keen to prove their credentials as some of the first 'digital natives' to emerge into the work force.
Spending time with them was an enlightening and heartening experience. They were technically savvy, commercially aware and asked some very tricky questions. Their ability to quickly and effectively collaborate on and offline was impressive and reassuring as we move towards an increasingly 'remote' and fluid working world, and their project work showed a real aptitude for strategic thinking, attracting consistently high marks. I left the training sessions feeling that the digital industry has much to look forward to.
But if the Academy proved that there is some exceptional digital marketing talent amongst new graduates, why is the industry labouring under such a problematic skills shortage and not simply recruiting these bright young things?
Why indeed. Whilst working with the graduates and employers over the course of the academy, one major issue kept raising its head: digital simply isn't effectively marketed to graduates as a career choice.
With no academic course providing a neat conduit into the sector and businesses proving hesitant about investing in training and support for unproven graduates, it's difficult to see how new talent will emerge. Graduates have woefully little information about the available opportunities and we lost a number of willing and very able candidates to other industries as they were lured away by the prestige of well-known names and structured career paths.
A recent Chinwag blog post suggested that small companies, the real driving force behind digital development, are experiencing problems attracting new talent due to economics, and articles such as the IAB's Digital Media Careers Advice which encourages graduates to see smaller organisations as work experience on their way to jobs with the big boys certainly don't help. It's not surprising that so many specialist digital employers are less than enthusiastic about committing time and money to training new recruits.
There is certainly an argument that your average marketing graduate won't thrive in digital. As a new industry, employers are looking for people with a passion and entrepreneurial spirit, who are willing to take a leap of faith. It would be nice to think that the relatively closed digital marketing community would operate as a useful initial filter, but the reality is that we're crying out for new talent and missing golden opportunities.
It seems to me that while the provision of training is an undeniable route to more candidates, greater visibility and a little re-education about the types of opportunities that are available could help win the battle. The Graduate Academy was a valuable first step and gave us some real insight into the recruitment problems dogging the industry, but businesses need to wake up and invest time and effort into helping to create a skilled workforce.
Ultimately, if we're going to attract candidates from the range of backgrounds required to fulfil the various specialisms, digital has to be more visible. Getting involved with universities, providing work placements and project opportunities at all levels, having a significant presence at careers fairs and understanding the training needs of graduates is absolutely essential if we are to ensure a steady flow of talent into the digital ranks.
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