Becoming future-fit



Dr Paul Hopkins
Professor Paul Hopkinson, associate head of Edinburgh Business School, Heriot-Watt University Dubai, offers his thoughts on how organisations and business leaders can change the skills gap narrative in digital marketing

Digital marketing is relatively young as a profession but is identified as a career path with immense growth potential. The world is rapidly shifting to digital, with many organisations choosing to accelerate their ambitions in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, backed by increased consumer confidence and familiarity with digital channels. This has resulted in a spike in digital marketing jobs. According to Linkedln, the 'Digital Marketing Specialist,' role is among the top 10 most in-demand jobs, with 860,000 job openings. The most requested experience in digital marketing includes social media, content strategy, SEO and analytics, among others.

Aditionally, the World Economic Forum 'Jobs of Tomorrow' report showcased that digital marketing is amongst the most in-demand skills across several industries, including the care economy (related to the healthcare field) and the green economy (encompassing jobs in the sustainability sector. This speaks of the profession's strength as it transcends various industries and sectors. The Digital marketing profession offers a multitude of career avenues ranging from more technical spheres such as digital marketing analytics through to the more creative area of content creation. Nevertheless, finding talent with the right blend of skills remains a significant challenge.

Looking at the hiring pattern closer to home, a LinkedIn survey titled 'Jobs on the Rise' noted that, with the online usage increasing every year, companies moved to capitalise 'on increased e-commerce activity. 71 per cent hired into digital marketing roles in 2020. Social-media-related roles showed some of the highest growth, which was linked to increased social media usage in the wake of the pandemic. This category also saw one of the most balanced gender hirings, with a 01:49 female-to-male ratio, and the vast majority were self-employed or freelancers.

As the digital marketing sector continues to grow at a steady pace and new technologies emerge, educators and professionals must adopt a collaborative approach to anticipate and address emerging skills gaps, ensuring that the upcoming marketing talent is fit for the future. Focus an lifelong learning Marketing as an industry is ever-changing and continues to evolve robustly. In addition, digital marketing is even faster when it comes to the changes in the industry.

As the customer demographics change, applications that worked well a few years ago might either be upgraded or entirely done away with. For digital marketers, it is important to learn constantly to grow their portfolios and succeed in the roles they are entrusted with. Building skills and capability within a team requires continued efforts. In environments where companies are shifting their approach towards digital and data, it is important to consider the skills and abilities that our across departments and support the organisation's marketing needs. Business leaders can play an important role in ensuring their employees continue to learn by empowering them to opt for external upskilling courses, extensive on-the-job training and upgrading platforms and applications to reflect the changes in the industry. Upskilling and reskilling are important to an organisation's and individual's growth, and organisations cannot do it alone.

A collaborative approach An isolated environment at work or while pursuing education is extremely limiting to the growth of any individual. More so in the next generation skill sets, including the fast-paced digital marketing field. The digital environment is changing so fast that the industry needs to re-evaluate the way employees and individuals stay in tune with them along with formal education. There needs to be a significant change in approaching the skills gap by encouraging building the workforce's practical skills.

Employers are progressively expecting experience and more digital fluency from recent graduates. Still, the support and training on offer can sometimes be lacking, as internally the digital sldllset may not be up to scratch in most organisations. Engaging in a collaborative approach where employees can learn from each other, upskill one another and provide others with hands-on practical experience can prove beneficial. We also need educators and industry working together to close the gap between the profession and the classroom and co-creating educational offerings, blurring traditional boundaries by bringing the workplace to the classroom and study opportunities to the workplace.

The opportunities that collaboration brings across sectors is exponential. In digital marketing, they are even more significant as keeping updated and sharing information and working collaboratively supports growth through knowledge sharing. Identifying current and future skills gaps The impact of digital marketing on businesses has proved beneficial to the growth of organisations, from being cost-effective to having a wider geographical reach. As far as marketing is concerned, nothing else can be far from the truth. For example, reports have suggested that big data and analytics, marketing automation and digital video marketing are all skills that need constant upgrading and present the biggest gaps in jobs. Furthermore, with the onset of 5G connectivity, cloud computing, AI and cybersecurity resilience, highly advanced ICT skills, are crucial for the region's post-oil economic transformation goals. A deep analysis of the skills deficiencies in the workforce can be beneficial to both the organisation and individuals.

While individuals and organisations need to do most of the work to have the relevant skills for success in digital marketing, another way to build a solid understanding of the market and the changes is by creating pathways to interact with and be in the presence of veteran peers. The industry has evolved, and so have digital marketers. It is not about the young minds being more talented. Veterans can provide peer support and impart significant knowledge to the up-and-coming digital marketers with many more years of experience and constant upskilling and reskilling marketing. From wins to failures to understanding what works and what does not, those in the industry have seen it change rapidly and kept up with the change.

Organisations and higher education institutes can build a peer network that will provide one-to-one or group knowledge sharing. Being in the industry for years and being part of the changing landscape puts them in a position to help those either entering the workforce or are looking to upskill. The widening digital marketing skills gap can be a way for the industry to rethink its approach. From hiring a diverse workforce that is not restricted to geographies, age, years of experience to actively upskilling employees - the industry can make a huge difference in the coming years. Additionally, higher education institutes can significantly bridge some of these skills gaps by providing tailored courses and partnering with industry bodies. In fact, Edinburgh Business School, Heriot-Watt University has recently announced a partnership with The Marketing Society, a global community of marketing leaders, aimed at nurturing future marketing talent and supporting those entering the profession through activities such as mentorship, workshops, and other collaborations. As education continues to play a vital role so will collaborations.