Growing skills shortage could hold our industry back

Jodie Sangster

Jodie Sangster has been the CEO of the Association for Data-driven Marketing and Advertising (ADMA) since 2011 and is also chairperson for the International Federation of Direct Marketing Associations (IFDMA). She has worked across the US, Europe and Asia-Pacific for 14 years with a focus on data-driven marketing and privacy, and began her career as a lawyer in London specialising in data protection. Her resume includes senior positions at Acxiom Asia-Pacific and the Direct Marketing Association in New York.

Every few weeks, I see an article about the gaps and talent shortages across our industry, particularly in digital strategy and analytics skills.

Digital innovation transformation has been dominating the marketing agenda this year with its frenetic pace and the way it is changing how companies operate and deliver output.

In a study conducted by the GlobalDMA last year, respondents in 17 countries including Australia said they were increasing spending across the board, especially in digital execution and core capabilities linked to the utilisation of data, such as database management and analytics. But the same study noted that the talent shortage was a barrier everywhere to improved performance.

Many CMOs tell me they are worried their marketing teams don’t have the skills, knowledge or training to implement the kinds of digital strategies that will take their company forward. Agencies are also finding it challenging to hire and retain digital marketers with the skills to deliver quality strategy and creative.

The same concern is being voiced on the analytics front. A study from The Institute of Analytics Professionals of Australia’s (IAPA) last year found 90 per cent of managers can’t find the analytics talent they need. This gap will continue to widen as brands and agencies fight for an increasingly scarce resource.

Surprisingly, there is even a talent drought in creative. At the Australian Creativity and Effectiveness Awards last year, our judges didn’t award a trophy in copywriting because they believed the quality wasn’t there. Sure, there was some great creative to look at, but it didn’t always have solid business results behind it, something I am adamant must be in lock step with creativity in the future.

Even those who have managed to build strong teams are facing challenges as competitors try to poach those individuals with the skills they need. This might be a quick fix, but it’s not a very good long-term solution.

So what’s the answer? It is incumbent on us as an industry to invest in training the talent we have. But we can’t rely exclusively on universities for training, as most are behind in terms of what is actually happening in the industry. To that end, industry associations must do their bit to help. This year, ADMA is responding to the talent shortage by overhauling its education programs in digital, analytics, programmatic, creativity and data to meet industry needs now and in to the future.

Here are some things you should also be doing:

  • Start by establishing a really clear strategy for talent recruitment, development and, importantly, retention.

  • Stop focusing on short-term/quick-fix activity (that means less poaching) and start looking seriously at the people you already have. Commit to strong professional development programs so staff can continue to upskill and grow. If someone has creative flair or data/numbers nous, give them a chance to undertake a creative or analytics role if they are keen to develop these skills, even if it is not their job.

  • Online learning can fill a gap. If your people are too busy with their day jobs, consider e-learning and online certificate programs as a potential solution to fill the skills shortage. Or give over a day or two to a tailored in-house training program.

  • Consider a paid internship scheme. There is no shortage of imaginative talent coming out of university keen to learn digital, creative and analytics skills.

Right now, a lot of young people have vague ideas about what the industry is about, and Mad Men hasn’t helped. Ask them what data-driven marketing is, what analytics involves or what a media agency does precisely and they might look askance (as we found out at a recent careers expo). This is something as an industry we need to change.

The talent shortage is one of the most important issues we are facing as an industry, one that could hold us back. It’s time to do something to safeguard our sector. This means putting long-term plans in place instead of short-term Band-Aids. Let’s invest in innovation, education and training to upskill the people we have.

Tags: skills, data-driven marketing, marketing careers, marketing strategy

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