That was then, this is now…for the digital skills crisis

tech_2_dec_2023In the first of a series of articles, Decision Marketing revisits the major industry issues we pinpointed at the end of 2022 for the year ahead, the progress – if any – that has been made and where we are now.

First up, the seemingly perennial problem of the digital skills shortage, which back in 2022 was estimated to be costing the UK economy more than £50bn a year, with eight in ten business leaders admitting the dearth of talent was having a negative impact on their organisation.

In December last year, we concluded our article by saying that “maybe, just maybe, things are starting to move in the right direction”.

And, within weeks, it seemed there was finally recognition within Whitehall that the UK needed to step up to the plate, with the Government vowing to make tackling the skills crisis its “most important priority” for the marketing and advertising industry.

According to a report published by the Advertising Association and thinktank Credos, the number of people working in marketing and advertising had fallen by 14% between 2019 and 2020, with digital and data skills in high demand.

Speaking at the joint Advertising Association, IPA and ISBA Lead 2023 conference, the then Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan said she would “go further” to address the ongoing skills crisis and pledged to unveil a plan detailing how the Government would deliver a “new generation of highly skilled workers” in 2023, while also upskilling the existing workforce.

The DMA soon chipped in, calling on UK businesses to introduce continuous learning within their organisation, amid claims that micro-upskilling offers additional benefits compared to traditional training methods.

The move followed a DMA pilot scheme run in October the previous year in which around 150 marketers across 16 multinational organisations, charities, SMEs, and agencies took part in trialling a micro-upskilling programme over a 6 to 10 week period. Organisations such as Experian, RSPCA, Golden Charter, Visit Scotland, PETA, and The Dragonfly Agency were involved.

DMA managing director Rachel Aldighieri explained at the time: “In the current economic climate, financial and time constraints mean that traditional training approaches are harder to implement, yet it is critical that our industry doesn’t neglect skills development and the growth of our teams. Micro-upskilling provides an effective and productive way of investing in our people and, in turn, plugging skills gaps to drive business growth.”

Since then, the trade body has expanded its digital marketing skills bootcamps to cover data strategy, analytics and measurement.

But the scale of the issue became more apparent when it was revealed that even the mega bucks on offer in the UK financial services industry had not made the sector immune from the skills shortages, with the drive to provide personalised products and services also being hampered by a lack of data expertise.

According to research from data and analytics consultancy Cynozure, there is also a lack of understanding of the value of data at senior levels of UK finance firms; about a third (31%) said the data skills shortage was across the entire organisation.

One solution which has been gaining support is for UK firms to redouble their efforts to embrace neurodiverse talent to help plug the skills gap, amid claims business are more likely to gain and sustain a competitive advantage across areas such as computational thinking, observation, adaptability and intuition.

A study by Sparta Global claimed that neurodiverse people, especially those on the autism spectrum, can often thrive with problem solving tasks, data analysis, and projects that require high attention to detail.

However, it highlighted that neurodiverse people are simply not being supported and empowered across employment.

Whether the penny will finally drop remains to be seen, even though the DMA unveiled its own employment guide for businesses, designed to attract more neurodiverse people into the marketing industry, as far back as 2019.

Meanwhile, UK firms are also being encouraged to look closer to home to tackle the digital skills gap, with one analysis showing that nearly nine in ten British workers are keen to acquire tech expertise.

According to the 2023 State of Digital Adoption report from technology company Userlane, data analysis and interpretation skills are the most sought-after, craved by a fifth of the workforce.

But it has been the rise of new tech, especially artificial intelligence, which has really focused the minds of both businesses and Government ministers, with the likes of generative AI, Google Analytics 4, and Web3 threatening to create a fresh skills gap across the majority of industries.

A study carried out by the Chartered Institute of Marketing highlighted the complex environment marketers operate in. Worryingly, one in five respondents stated they feel they only have some of the required skills to successfully carry out their roles, while almost four-fifths believe the skill set required for the job has changed completely over the past decade.

In response, the Government has launched a £200m digital skills training package aimed at boosting local economies and aid the rise of “digital nomads” in sectors such as digital technologies, while it is dishing out up to £17m in funding to create more scholarships for AI and data science conversion courses, to help underrepresented people join the AI industry.

New Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer has even pledged that the UK creative industries will get a 1 million job boost through the Government’s investment blueprint, adding £50bn in value to the sector by 2030. However, exact details are thin on the ground.

Businesses are also jumping aboard. Amazon is aiming to bolster its position in the AI market with plans to train over 2 million people globally in the tech by 2025, including providing free training and courses to people without tech backgrounds.

But, it seems, digital skills are not the only issue. A report by IBM claimed people skills could be more important for employees than technical expertise, and versatility will be crucial in order to embrace AI tools.

Business chiefs claimed that 40% of their workforce will need to be reskilled within 36 months in order to take full advantage of the rise of AI, with adaptability and time management skills way more important than STEM proficiency.

And, when it comes to the AI jobs apocalypse, nearly nine out of ten (88%) bosses said roles will be augmented by AI instead of replaced by it.

Ironically, when Decision Marketing quizzed AI platform Canva on the issue, the technology reckons it has the potential to help with the skills shortage in several ways.

It responded: “Firstly, AI can automate certain tasks, freeing up employees to focus on more complex and creative work. This can help to alleviate some of the pressure on companies that are struggling to find skilled workers.

“Secondly, AI can be used to help train employees. For example, AI-powered learning platforms can provide personalised training programmes based on an individual’s strengths and weaknesses. This can help to upskill employees and improve their job performance.

“Finally, AI can be used to identify candidates with the necessary skills for a particular job. By analysing data from resumes, social media profiles, and other sources, AI can help companies to quickly identify candidates who are a good fit for a particular role. This can help to speed up the recruitment process and ensure that companies are able to fill roles with the right people.

“While it is not a silver bullet solution, AI can certainly help to alleviate the problem and ensure that companies are able to keep up with the pace of technological change.”

So, maybe, just maybe, things are starting to move in the right direction, after all.

Related stories
‘Soft skills more vital than tech expertise’ for AI gains
Amazon unveils major plan to train 2 million in AI skills
Govt opens £17m AI student fund but firms must pay too
Govt unveils £200m digital skills training programme
Rise of new tech threatens to open up fresh skills gap
Firms urged to train existing staff to tackle skills crisis
Firms urged to empower ‘nervous, fearful’ autistic talent
Finance firms join the queue to woo data professionals
DMA: Micro-upskilling ‘a proven way to plug skills gap’
Government pledges help to tackle industry skills crisis
Where will we be in 2023… with the skills shortage?

Print Friendly