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

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