Digital industry urged to rebrand

Britain’s digital media industry must rebrand to job-seekers if it is to head off a skills shortage set to last from now until at least 2010.

The marketing call comes after Web design, development and marketing skills emerged as “difficult” or “impossible” for 90 per cent of British firms to secure during 2007.

Although this scarcity of skills has enriched freelancers, most businesses plan to hold steady or cut freelance hires, particularly if the business was one which found digital skills tough to find.

But a majority of creative recruiters say the shortage of digital skills, on both a freelance and permanent basis, shows no real sign of being addressed.

Partly this is because the industry is failing to beautify itself to entrants at both ends of the jobs market - digital graduates or mid-career professionals with transferable skills.

Industry captains say clients and agencies must begin to spotlight the rewarding parts of digital jobs, through more effective marketing, such as video podcasting, and fuller job descriptions.

Moreover, an industry body should be considered to tackle the skills shortage, which is worsened by digital expertise evolving quicker than the content of associated resources at schools, colleges and universities.

The body should promote digital careers, not just jobs, to graduates so the industry’s companies don’t lose the war for talent to higher-paying rival industries, such as IT and Engineering.

“Why are they [other industries] getting people into the marketplace and we’re not?,” asked Harry Fowler, group digital recruiter at AMV Group, in a podcast by Chinwag.

“There is a salary issue here, but [it’s also because] we just don’t market the industry properly. You need to show people a path to success and if they can’t see it, [then] they’re going to go into other industries where they can see it.”

He pointed to the Internet Advertising Bureau as an organisation that could externally brand the digital industry better than clients and recruiters could, as their time, but not necessarily their cash, would be limited.

Such an industry-funded body is seen as necessary to solve the digital skills crisis, Mr Fowler argued, because the “the problem is not going to go away next year, or the year after.”

Not only must digital agencies and clients focus more on paving out career paths for candidates, they must also consider mentorship, training and positive role models if the skills gap is to be bridged, the debate heard.

And in order to ensure candidates are up to scratch for employers’ digital roles, which often demand more than just one specialism, the onus is on industry to declare which combinations of skills it requires.

Speaking to the podcast, Fiona Kilkelly, interactive manager at SkillSet, said today’s “graduates are generally not entering the workplace” with skillsets wide enough for digital roles.

Leadership and management skills are often found wanting in creative digital workers, whereas technical digital workers often lack creativity, she said.

As a result of demand not being met by the UK alone, recruiters are sourcing digital staff from overseas locations in Northern Europe, like Estonia, and further afield like Hong Kong.

Matt Alder, head of digital at recruitment firm Barkers testified to the UK’s dearth of digital skills and what is perceived as one of the main barriers to addressing it.

“Digital doesn’t do much to attract candidates externally,” he said, “For an industry with an acute skills shortage, we are very bad at advertising that fact…We are not branding digital media externally.”

Yet freelancers will be forgiven for having mixed feelings about how loudly the industry should begin to declare itself to job-seekers.

One digital agency explained it was “terrifying” when skilled employees realised the lucrative rates they could now command by working freelance.

“It is very very hard to give these new freelancers a good reason to stay in-house because of the good money they can earn.” Training, the agency said, is one way to tempt them to stay.

 

1st April 2008

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