Ad bodies respond to ‘desperate shortage’ of digital skills in light of UK budget leak

Responses to the UK budget leaks have varied, but one element lacking detail is how the government plans to address the digital skills gap, beyond vagaries about investment. Advertising bodies the DMA, the AA and the MRS have proposed they could step up to train the next generation of marketers in response to the budget.

The skills gap is especially acute in the marketing industry, which is known to have had a hard time bringing in younger practitioners – especially through non-traditional channels. The gap is accentuated especially now with the UK facing an exodus of talent due to Brexit and the lingering chilling effects of the pandemic upon growth, especially for SMEs.

Chris Combemale is the chief executive of the Data and Marketing Association (DMA). He says: “Marketing has been at the forefront of business digital transformation for many years. The coronavirus pandemic has drastically accelerated society’s reliance on digital mediums and consumer habits have changed accordingly.

“Therefore, there is vastly growing demand for professionals with digital skillsets to engage with them.”

He says businesses are facing a “significant issue” finding talent equipped with these skills as there is limited availability.

To solve this, a number of the leading marketing associations in the UK are proposing that the government allocates “a portion of the increased funding for the National Skills Fund ... to industry-led qualifications to help fill thousands of immediate job openings.

Combemale says: “The government is missing a huge opportunity to reduce the vast digital skills gaps that exist across the economy and should allocate a specific budget to trade association qualifications. Trade and professional bodies are best placed to help with their strong industry connections and understanding of the skills that employers require most.

“All such qualifications are developed by employers for employers. Crucially, these employers have the jobs that need filling immediately and trust the quality of training provided by their industry association.”

Beyond young talent

Beyond simply aiming to upskill younger entrants to the industry, the mooted scheme would also aim to encourage people from other sectors to bend their talents to advertising and marketing.

Jane Frost CBE, chief executive of the Market Research Society (MRS), says: “The recovery and growth of the research sector are being jeopardized by a shortage of skills. Companies in our sector, particularly SMEs, are being priced out in a bidding war for talent. The need to solve this is immediate and reskilling older workers is vital. Associations like ourselves do not need to consult employers on their needs or familiarize ourselves with the market, because employers are our members.”

Stephen Woodford, chief executive of the Advertising Association (AA), adds: “There is a desperate shortage of digital marketing and advertising talent. AA research shows that £1 spent on advertising generates £6 of GDP. For this investment to be successful it is critical that digital marketers know how to plan a campaign, determine the right channel strategy and can create compelling content that engages their customers.”

The government has committed to investing in T-levels and other forms of education in the latest budget, though higher education centers and experts have said the UK is still spinning its wheels and losing ground when it comes to upskilling.

Provisional funding for sector-specific upskilling, of the type proposed by the DMA and others, would be one potential solution to the widening skills gap. As Amsterdam and other marketing hubs seek to capitalize on Brexit’s draining effect on skills, a scheme like this might be one such solution.