Navigating the digital skills deficit

Digital deficit

The recovery may be well under way. But business growth could yet be stalled for lack of key skills – in particular in the digital space…

At first glance, UK PLC is on the up.

Gross domestic product grew by 0.8 per cent in the last quarter (Source: ONS), taking the economy 0.2 percent above its pre-recession peak. And expectations are that the next quarter will see similar growth. 

There is, however, a downside: the recovery has exposed glaring skills gaps in a number of key sectors. As a consequence, a recent Prince’s Trust poll concludes, 43% of businesses surveyed believe economic growth will actually slow during the next 12 months, due to a lack of skilled workers.

The Trust is not alone in taking a ‘measured’ view of the much-vaunted ‘turnaround’.

Whilst 71% of firms are planning to increase their investment in digital marketing (Econsultancy) -in particular, in the areas of content creation, social media, search engine marketing and online community management – July’s Digital Skills for Tomorrow’s World report predicts the need for an additional 745,000 experienced workers by 2017.

And in disciplines such as Big Data/analytics, mobile and marketing automation, there are already far more open positions than there is talent to fill them.

Big Data in particular demands a uniquely broad and diverse set of skills, combining an intimate knowledge of computer science, modelling, statistics, analytics and mathematics with proven commercial acumen and communications capabilities – enabling data scientists to walk ‘both sides of the fence’: helping non technical business leaders to leverage data to achieve their strategic goals.

Unsurprisingly, this particular combination of skills is in very short supply.

To combat the problem, many firms have begun recruiting from outside the EU – taking advantage of Exceptional Talent visas, which allow them to hire non-EU citizens who have a proven ‘digital track record’.

Other firms have resorted to hiring-in the necessary expertise on a contract basis.

But neither is a panacea.

These days, freelance contractors are able to pick and choose the jobs that appear most lucrative, and personally rewarding. And staff relocating from overseas invariably need considerable support in the early stages – to help them acclimatise to their new culture, lifestyle and even language.

Outsourcing to a specialist digital agency, on the other hand, offers the best of both worlds: combining specialist talent ‘on tap’ with lower overall costs.

Compare and contrast.

Outside of London, a ‘middleweight’ digital marketer is likely to command a salary of the order £36,000-£48,000pa before benefits – e.g.: a bonus scheme, contributory pension, healthcare, ongoing training, holiday entitlements, etc.

Factor in around £4,000+ worth of Employer’s National Insurance and your digital ‘Jack of all trades’ is likely to cost you around £60,000pa – and provide you with a relatively narrow skillset.

Meaning, chances are, you’ll still have to outsource a number of key functions.

By contrast, outsourcing to a specialist agency enables you to pick and choose the skills you need, when you need them.

And necessarily so, because nowadays: one size simply does not fit all.

Your new hire may for instance be a great web ‘designer’; but do they have the requisite understanding of, say, information architecture/usability, SEO, content development, programming – or any of the myriad disciplines that make for a winning site?

In turn, an effective content marketing strategy is predicated on a diverse mix of traditional and digital expertise – including journalism, marcomms, social media, search, video… and much more besides.

Skills that, frankly, you’ll be fortunate to find in a single hire.

Then there’s PPC, remarketing, analytics, gamification… the list goes on. But your budget, alas, does not.

Given this, it’s no wonder smarter SMEs are turning to outsourcing – not only bridging the digital skills gap, but booking capacity for future sales growth.

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