Guest Blog - Dave Edmundson-Bird - A Challenge for Future Digital Creative


Dave Edmundson-Bird is a highly respected figure in the North West digital scene. An influential and highly knowledgeable educator he constantly strives to develop the best digital minds in the region

A Challenge for Future Digital Creative

The recession has taught us a few things, one of which is that we cannot just sit by, complacently watch the world and imagine our pots will just fill with money. The other is that we need to think to the future and the way we staff our organisations. The recession will end, and when it does, we need to make sure that our businesses are staffed with the right kind of people able to take on the new kind of work that will inevitably emerge. One of these growth areas will be the digital and creative sector.

Filling roles in this sector is already difficult. I was asked personally five times in August if I knew of people to fill middle and senior digital roles in agencies and client-side firms (followed by the question, “If you don’t know of anyone, do you fancy it?”). Firms have been asking if I know of good graduates, with experience and the right attitude, who could fill vacant new-entrant posts they have (thankfully I knew of a few, but many of these good graduates had already gone).

And things are going to get worse. The recession will lift, and opportunities will arise. Work will come in and new roles wil be created. Add to that, the arrival of the BBC, MediaCity and all of its accompanying industry will create an even larger than expected demand for human assets to fill its roles and supply services to it. I have heard anecdote (I struggle to find actual figures) that there will be an additional 10,000 to 17,000 vacancies created by the completion of the MediaCity project if you take into account all of the ancillary roles there. For some, MediaCity is like a shark lurking in the dark water, waiting to hover up all of your talent: the BBC is an enormous draw for people looking to populate their CV with a real name-dropper.

At the same time, Higher Education is drawing serious criticism from industry for not providing the kind of graduates with the right skills and experience. Universities are slow-to-change organisations but some of this criticism is unfair. There are a number of great courses designed to feed the future, but recruitment onto those course has been difficult. The key thing to remember is that Digital Creative firms don’t pay the student fees, students pay them. And students in many cases are not wanting to come onto courses which can feed the industry – we’re not sure why (some suggest that it’s because digital sounds “hard”, whilst others suggest that there’s poor information earlier in the careers track). Looking at one specific case – we’ve recruited 100 onto our normal undergraduate marketing management programme, but less than 10 onto our UG digital marketing programme. We can’t force people onto our programmes.

The problem might lie with image. And that’s something we’ve all got to work on. Secondly - opportunity. How many firms in Digital Creative offer a placement? How many offer a summer job placement (sometimes called an internship)? How many offer a one or two day a week part-time job to students whilst they study? How many firms have been into a University and taught on a digital programme? How many have had a University member of staff come into their firm and spend time there? The last time I asked this question, the answers were very few.

What can you do? Start banging on the doors of your local University. Insist on providing help (don’t take no for an answer). Insist on providing some of the teaching. Make a lecturer come and do a week in your company. Offer to pay some students to do some work (you can pay them what Sainsbury’s or Wetherspoon’s will pay them, because they will work there instead). But don’t assume that it will all happen magically. We all have our part to play, and we have to play it together.


David Edmundson-Bird - Director of Executive Programmes MMU Business School

Is Dave right? Do you feel differently? Leave a comment below and have your say.

September 2009




Comments...

  • I think both the universities and the industry in general are to blame. I went to university and studied the course which I thought would lead to a digital career only to be taught completely irrelevant content. Everything I know about web/digital I taught myself in my spare time. When I graduated and went looking for that first digital job I was greeted a resounding silence from all the digital agencies - I didn't have the 1-2 year's experience and didn't know every single discipline/programming language to a professional standard and that meant they weren't interested. They did not seem to be at all interested in taking on a junior with some skills and potential and train them up.
    17/09/2009 by Phil Thompson
  • I'm a former student from MMU who studied Business Management. I've always been happy around computers and wanted to combine business with computing. It took me a couple of years to find the right way forward but I'd highly recommend Online Marketing to anyone with an interest in the Internet and business. Personally I don't think image is the problem but a lack of direction at high school level (remembering I left school in 98 so things will have changed). I'm not sure how many teachers get what our industry is about. If teachers don't get it they won't push it.
    17/09/2009 by Rodney Riley
  • I do believe to a degree that there will be a shortage of talent in the Digital area as this is still an up and coming area but businesses are realising it's importance, and therefore the resource (and skills) this requires. I have seen some good courses through MMC learning specifically on Digital which are accredited by the CIM which are a good starting point for anyone looking to re-train http://www.mmclearning.com/courses/digital-marketing-qualifications/
    18/09/2009 by Debbie Harrigton
  • Great to see a clear summary of the new talent issue in digital with realistic suggestions on how to solve it. There is a wealth of talent out there waiting to be found but some effort is needed in finding them, and in helping them realise their potential. The payoff however can be massive. If you're new to digital and facing some of the barriers discussed above, you might want to apply for one of the opportunities on Northwest Vision and Media's i.studio scheme currently open: http://bit.ly/DB8O7
    17/09/2009 by Simon Knight
  • I am currently in a digital/online marketing role, but I have only moved into this area in the last 2-3 years. Prior to that I had worked in HR and Marketing. I did not go to University full time, all the qualifications that I have achieved has been through part time learning and for me personally this allowed me to apply practicle experience to the theory side of the studying and I often wondered how people completing the courses would get on without that practical experience to call upon. A suggestion may be for Universities to build up relationships with local businesses with a view that people from the company can come into lectures to give 'real life' examples of how theory is put into practice as this would also better equip students for when they complete their course.
    18/09/2009 by Debbie Harrington
  • I do agree somehow that there is a problem with the image. To understand, just take Social Media as an example: there are so many success stories already, arguably what one needs is a complete determination to use SocMed, minus all fears and concerns. But people are still fearing Social Media or laughing it off. Same for other Digital Creative sectors. And yes, "digital" may be off-putting to some. Recruitement-wise, it is vital for the industry, agencies, and emerging talents that they work with recruiters who specialise in this particular sector. Agencies as well may be extremely restrictive in whom they wish to recruit. My own experience shows that it is possible to gain a very substantial insight into industry in less than 1 year; but if an agency sees 1 year as a benchmark, then anything less is not considered, however good it is. What Phil said above rings very true. In short, huge commendations to David and to Orchard for thought leadership in such a problematic case!
    20/09/2009 by Julia Shuvalova

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