Unsatisfied by the digital talent gap, Adobe is investing directly in universities

The 2017 winners of the Adobe Analytics Challenge

Adobe is taking the global shortage of digital and analytical marketing talent into its own hands by developing curriculums with universities and expanding the scope of its annual Adobe Analytics Challenge.

The company has partnered with T-Mobile for the 13th iteration of the US competition, which gives university students access to a brand’s real-time data and challenges them to solve a number of business problems by analyzing that data. The winning teams will bag $60,000 in total, T-Mobile will take home fresh, data-informed insights and both brands will be exposed to more than 1,000 potential employees with analytical capabilities.

Adobe launched the competition in 2005. It has since gained an amount of kudos in the digital and data sectors, according to T-Mobile’s vice president for digital journeys, Giles Richardson, and partnered with global brands such as MGM Resorts International and Sony PlayStation.

But after dipping into academia across the course of a decade, Adobe realized it needed to do more to fill the digital and data pipeline of new recruits.

“To be frank, universities are struggling to catch up,” said Nate Smith, group manager of product marketing at Adobe Analytics and the competition’s lead. “As soon as they start to build out a digital analytics program, all of a sudden we're in a marketing analytics or customer analytics world.”

“We develop a curriculum for universities now. Along with training for professors, we give them and their classes access to Adobe Analytics sandboxes. We really see this as a great partnership with education, to help one and other.”

Core partners on the curriculums piece include the University of Texas, Brigham Young University in Utah, the University of Utah and the University of Massachusetts. Adobe does not team with specific degrees, but rather dips in to relevant coursework where necessary.

Is it ethical for multibillion dollar brand to actively shape the curriculum of academic institutions? Smith noted although it is often the schools that are approaching Adobe – and not the other way around – “there is a balance that one has to strike for sure”.

“Brands need to build the partnership in a way where students are getting an experience that will help them be successful in the job market but is respectful of the curriculum that is already in place,” he said. “The brand is there to simply be an outside consultant, but only at the will of the school. There is no obligation either way.

“However, if the engagement does happen, which is commonplace, brands can deliver most value by offering real-time insights into how the business world is evolving.”

The digital talent gap is widening as data analytics continue to play a bigger part in the role of marketers. Research from Capgemini and LinkedIn in 2017 found that more than half (54%) of companies agreed that the digital talent gap is hampering their digital transformation programs, while 55% of people working in digital said they are willing to move to another organization if they feel their digital skills are stagnating at their current employer.

But rather than bemoan the lack of digital and analytical talent in the industry, both Richardson and Smith believe the onus is on brands such as their own to actively do something about it. Actively investing in academic courses – from computer science to data journalism – is the first step.

“We're completely enabled to...increase the talent in this area, or really to direct that which already exists into [marketing],” said Richardson. “I think we will have a hand at directing future careers which we will benefit from later.”

Adobe is currently looking to expand the Analytics Challenge to markets outside of the US.

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.