The Digital Skills Gap is Costing the UK Billions in GDP Growth

woman using a tablet in front of a laptop

Scott McBay a digital marketing advisor, coach and trainer at Balanced Impact, shares his thoughts on how a lack of industry regulation is contributing to the growing digital skills gap. 

Scott McBay

A serious lack of industry regulation is contributing to digital skills gap, which cost the UK £141 billion in GDP growth, according to Accenture.

As marketers, some of the responsibility for narrowing the Digital Skills Gap lies with us; reducing the disconnect between the digital knowledge and experience we require for future success, and the reality of the skills we possess.

A shortage of talent for digital jobs is a major risk to innovation, business growth and the development of our society as a whole – as well as potentially rendering the UK less attractive for inward investment. As Brexit looms, this becomes more crucial than ever. With the Government’s Digital Skills research reporting that 72% of large companies and 49% of SMEs are suffering as a result of a technological skills gap, the scale of the issue is immense.

The problem, caused in part by the speed of innovation and drive for efficiency, has been compounded by a slow response from industry to invest in high-quality digital training. But a lack of regulation within the marketing industry is contributing further and slowing the potential for a surge in skill development.

The lack of regulation means that, with no barriers to entry, literally anyone can set themselves up as a digital marketer. Some marketers will jump, from agency to agency, without necessarily growing their skills. They may manage teams, without actually delivering on one of their most crucial roles, which is to help upskill those that are part of their team.

With no standardised way of measuring proficiency, employers and clients can be lulled into a false sense of security about the ability of their employee, consultants or agency, to deliver commercially driven results. If clients or employees don’t understand what great looks like, how can they invest in the training required to create great marketeers and help close the skills gap?

In worse case scenarios, marketers lacking the necessary skills can cause real and lasting damage to the reputation and growth of organisations. There have been cases of a 25 – 30 per cent drop in revenue, due to Google penalties, as a direct result of poor digital marketing management. And we’ve experienced companies which are misspending up to 40 per cent of their online advertising spend, because of a lack of experience and skill.

This cowboy approach has other casualties; damaging the reputation of the vast majority of hard-working and highly skilled professional marketeers and causing them to lose some of their competitive advantage in the skills they have invested in, honed with experience and training.

Current initiatives and investment will go some way to yield results, but we need to scratch deeper. There needs to be a greater demand on businesses to invest in training. And crucially, more funding for high-quality digital skills training, as opposed to tick-box style training which does little to close the gap.

And while educational institutions are beginning to address the growing need for digital skills, recruiters within the industry find there is a misalignment between relevant theory and commercial understanding. Our world-class universities and industry need to have greater collaboration – with each other and with businesses – in order to stay current and to deliver graduates that can hit the ground running in a commercial world.

We need to let go of the fear that sharing knowledge and skill will reduce competitive edge – greater collaboration will help close the digital skills gap. Internal training, external mentoring – these are ways of working which don’t just contribute to the greater good of the business or consultancy we work for, but to our own personal development too.

Greater regulation within the Digital Marketing industry is key. While the level of regulation seen in financial or legal sectors is not necessary, guidelines and quantifiable measurements which demonstrate digital skills proficiency and an agency’s ability to deliver high quality digital marketing, would boost the industry: Both helping to create a higher quality of training to close the digital skills gap and boosting the reputation of a crucial industry.



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