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Signal Boost for Digital Skills

Signal Boost for Digital Skills

We Are Digital’s chief executive, Matt Adam, outlines the digital skills gap facing the UK’s employers and the digital marketing roles opening up across the job market for tenants as a result.

Finding work and income-generating opportunities for tenants is an ongoing concern for housing providers. The pandemic has changed the workplace, possibly forever, and finding a job offline in lockdown has become impossible for many.

For younger tenants, the UK’s employment opportunities are narrowing. For example, the government’s Kickstart scheme, which provides funding to employers to create job placements for 16-24 year-olds on universal credit, has seen some employers reluctant to start placements due to the continuing lockdown. The latest UK employment figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show unemployment is nearly at five per cent; within that statistic are the quarter of a million 16-24 year-olds who lost their jobs during the pandemic.

In-work poverty is also a significant social issue and on the rise thanks to increases in the cost of living and cuts in social security support. The Carnegie Trust recently reported that the minimum wage, introduced in 1998, has done little overall to help the in-work poor (2021). The government has a target to increase the minimum wage to two-thirds of median hourly pay by 2024, but the current crisis has possibly reduced progress towards that goal.

A catalyst for change 

And the good news in all of this? The pandemic has been a huge catalyst for social change as offices have moved into new virtual territories. It has also exposed the extent of the digital skills gap faced by the UK’s employers and thus created a range of employment opportunities which didn’t exist before. Digital roles have seemingly been unaffected by any recruitment slumps; advertised vacancies in the technology sector increased by 36 per cent from June to August 2020. Growth sectors that are currently desperate for employees include e-commerce, digital content, social media and digital marketing.

As the workplace becomes increasingly digitised, interest is surging in closing digital skills gaps. The lack of digitally-skilled workers is a major pain point for almost two-thirds of the UK’s businesses (source: FDM Group, 2021). Equally, appetite for digital upskilling is on the rise; nearly 75 per cent of people over the age of 45 say they are willing to invest time in learning digital skills (source: Microsoft, 2021). Nationally, IABUK.com quotes a profound shortage of digital marketing skills, with 50 per cent of new graduates not equipped for this sector.

Bridging the gap

Training is emerging to tackle these national skills shortages. We worked on a pilot project in 2020 with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to improve digital skills in a contract funded by the Department for Education. Indeed, the LEP’s Digital Landscape Summary report (2019) highlighted marketing as, “one of three skills gaps in the incumbent Lancashire digital workforce.”

The 12-week training course, known as Digital Boost, specifically targeted diverse and excluded communities and provided participants with the skills and confidence they needed to gain higher-paid roles in the digital sector.

Applications were particularly encouraged from women, black and minority ethnicity residents and those who have historically struggled to access training and education for financial reasons. Young people disadvantaged or displaced by coronavirus were also a focus. Each demographic target was hit in terms of course attendees.

Bringing fresh ideas

Attendees learned how to plan, test and implement and refine digital campaigns, working in teams to design and present a commercial strategy. Our students learn that it is possible to take fresh ideas into competitive, modern marketing businesses, while our training emphasises that diverse backgrounds are an advantage in digital industries where authenticity and individual stories are highly prized. In a boost for attendee confidence, guaranteed interviews with local employers are on offer. Many graduates of the course went on to new, well-paid digital marketing roles in companies of all shapes and sizes.

The training has now been rolled out nationally and is making its way into the housing sector. We recently won a contract with Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing (MTVH) to develop future digital marketing work opportunities for tenants. The move forms part of MTVH’s resident and customer empowerment strategy for 18-48 year-olds.

Saba Yazdani, projects and partnerships manager, Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing, said, “We understand that wider support is needed to enable our residents to live well and fulfil their potential, and tackle the inequalities which limit this. The pandemic has brought into sharper focus how there has been a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable people in our communities, and they are facing increasing challenges and inequity, including higher levels of unemployment.

“There is a growing demand for digital marketing skills. The Digital Boost programme, supported by We Are Digital, will enable us to equip our residents with new skills and increased confidence to apply for better paid jobs within the marketing and technology sector, and provide more direct access to digital marketing employment opportunities.

For employers, the situation is win-win too, with workforce-wide digital skills linked closely to business growth. We have personally witnessed a growing desire to fill digital skills gaps. Indeed, employers in our growing national database, which includes start-ups, SMEs and big corporates, are ready to take on work experience placements, apprentices and early-career roles linked to our training in digital marketing.

For tenants, the opportunities are certainly there for a brighter future. They just need a boost to give them the confidence to grow and to gain higher-paid roles in a digital industry crying out for skilled workers.

Matt Adam is chief executive of We Are Digital. Find out more here.