With a plethora of course options for marketers at any stage of their career, Marketing examines the current state of marketing education in Australia and asks, if there is a skills shortage in digital marketing, is the education sector wholly responsible or does business have a case to answer for?
A recent BRW article listed the top five hardest jobs to fill in Australia. Mining engineer was number one. Infrastructure project manager was number two, driven by rebuilding efforts from the 2011 Queensland floods and flow-on investments in road, rail and other facilities from the mining boom. Next came early childhood teachers, then underground electricians, another mining job. At number five, was senior digital marketers.
It is a trend being witnessed across the country. Global recruitment firm Hays Specialist Recruitment lists senior marketing executives as some of the most in demand professionals Australia-wide, and data from the latest Seek Employment Index has advertisements for digital and search marketing roles up by 48 percent from a year ago, far more than any other marketing category.
In this examination of Australia’s marketing education sector, Marketing delves into the question of whether the current skills shortage is a failure of education providers to ready graduates with the foundations and competencies needed to plan and execute world-class digital initiatives, or whether the business community itself, now desperate for qualified and experienced senior digital marketers, is somehow responsible.
An essential component
“We are hearing that industry requires digital marketing as an essential component of the marketing mix,” says Emma Blackburn, principal of the Australian College of Marketing, the only Australian institution accredited by the Chartered Institute of Marketing, the world’s largest organisation for professional marketers. “We are also hearing from recruitment agencies that few applicants have digital experience or qualifications, creating a massive skills shortage in Australia.”
But with such a huge number of undergraduate and post-graduate academic qualifications in marketing on offer in this country, along with a multitude of marketing short courses, seminars and workshops, why isn’t business seeing the benefit?
While the wide range is a positive, the downside is that marketing education in Australia tends to be very broad, says Blackburn. “There is also the concern that short courses are inevitably quite superficial, lacking the depth to allow participants to walk away and apply new skills.”
What’s more, she laments the limitations apparent in the university system: “I worry that the academic qualifications can be a little outdated. Some of the topics taught at university have not changed much over the last decade while, obviously, the industry has moved on. University degrees have not been able to keep pace with new topics in marketing, and the academics teaching them can lack industry experience.”
“Marketing education is working very hard to define what the basic marketing learning outcomes should be from both bachelor and master degrees,” says Irene Powell, deputy head of Monash University’s Department of Marketing, explaining that the more traditional tertiary institutions are not necessarily as out of touch as some may think.
“Collaboration with several industry bodies like AMI [Australian Marketing Institute], AANA [Australian Association of National Advertisers] and the Communications Council has been ongoing over the past year as part of a project with the Australian Business Deans Council. All universities who teach marketing have been invited to have input and most have taken up the opportunity,” she says.
Striving to stay up to date is a never ending task, especially in organisations where bureaucratic structures can mean making change to course structures is a slow process. But Powell says that while some course names today may sound similar to a decade ago, the content within the subjects changes far more easily, as do the methods of student learning, informed by a wide array of sources.
“We have a very active advisory board who advises us on content among many other things,” she says.
“We have academics producing relevant research in three broad areas of marketing: advertising and brands, marketing capabilities and retailing and consumer services [and] we have the Australian Centre for Retail Studies.”
Students can see how they measure up against their peers in competitions such as L’Oreal Brandstorm, Microsoft Protégé and Australia and New Zealand Advertising Academy, which also provides the University an opportunity to seek feedback from the competition organisers as to what they expect of graduates.
Recently the Media Federation of Australia held a ‘Lecture the Lecturer’ day in Sydney, in which advertising, marketing and media academics listened to input from media professionals. Their request? Graduates with data analysis skills in order to make sense of the mountain of new data produced by brand interaction in social and digital environments.
“Soft skills continue to be called for by industry. Communication and presentation skills, for example, team work skills, along with numeracy and creativity,” says Powell.
The Australian College of Marketing has recently introduced the Diploma in Digital Marketing to Australia, the first internationally recognised digital marketing qualification. It was introduced to address what Blackburn calls “a massive skills shortage” in digital marketing.
In bringing the Diploma in Digital Marketing to Australia, the College is following in the footsteps of its UK counterparts, a territory that is widely referenced as a beacon to which this country’s marketing education sector should look.
“Australia is certainly lagging in marketing education, especially when you look at what’s happening in the UK,” Blackburn says.
One current trend in the UK is for vocational marketing qualifications to be embedded into undergraduate and postgraduate studies. Without it, marketers risk graduating without having solid practical skills. A second trend is the widespread incorporation of digital marketing at undergraduate level, along with dedicated digital qualifications to ensure junior marketers are educated in digital early in their careers.
Blackburn warns that omitting digital education early on leaves junior marketers unqualified for positions in a booming market desperate for skilled personnel.
But is Australia’s marketing education sector really lagging so obviously in imparting on its students up to-the-minute platform competencies and skills, such as those in the ever-changing world of social media?
“I think that’s probably a little bit unfair,” says James Fitzgerald, program director at SMK. “Where I think the UK is quite far ahead of Australia is not necessarily in social media marketing, it’s just in digital marketing full stop.”
Fitzgerald should know. He co-founded and directed one of the UK’s first social media and online PR agencies in 2005, and now heads up SMK’s digital strategy and social media short course offerings around Asia-Pacific, running both public sessions and in-house workshops for organisations such as tourism Australia, the ABC, Fairfax Media and News Magazines.
“One of the things I’ve found quite interesting in relocating over here a couple of years ago is how undeveloped things like search marketing are, or how undeveloped ecommerce is.”
The business case
When you look back at Australia’s traditional tertiary institutions’ track record of developing their marketing departments to keep up with technological and consumer advancements, it doesn’t appear as if they’ve had their head in the sand.
As early as 1997, Monash University’s Department of Marketing appointed a professor of electronic marketing. In 1999 it offered a graduate qualification in direct marketing, the precursor to interactive and digital marketing.
For Fitzgerald, it is the businesses now desperately searching for senior digital marketers that are most to blame for their predicament.
Per capita, Australia has one of the highest social media and internet penetrations in the world, but the business uptake has been slow. “The consumer is there, but business adoption is not,” he says. “Because of that, if your company is not really prepared to invest in the web or digital, it makes it quite difficult for you to then build a marketing plan around that.”
So does that mean it has been the business community’s unwillingness to foster digital marketing skills by fully investing in digital marketing initiatives that has created a certain staleness in Australia’s marketing industry?
“I think the two go hand in hand,” says Fitzgerald. “Whereas I think particularly in the UK, US and Europe, the internet has been embraced much more rapidly as a business medium, and obviously you then learn how to market as a result of that.”
He doesn’t see the tertiary sector as being to blame, but rather that without the demand for particular skills from the business world until now, even when they are learned within marketing degrees, if they are not applied they sooner or later (more likely sooner in the ever-changing online world) go out of date. Then, you must play catch up later on.
“I’ve had people in our training workshops that have been trying to get various different online marketing channels over the line for a long time at their companies, and their companies have been reluctant to do so,” says Fitzgerald. “So they obviously have an understanding in the first place, it’s just their hands are tied in terms of implementation.”
Convergence and integration
In a marketing landscape where conversation and noise can easily seem to be focused on the next big technological toy and the latest ways consumers are interacting with brands, it’s important to remember that many basic principles of the discipline remain unchanged. Suggestions that ‘out-dated’ tertiary institutions no longer have a place in the modern marketing industry forget this.
“There are some things which are static,” says Fitzgerald. “For example, how you write a press release is relatively static: you write a press release the same way today as you did 10 years ago or 20 years ago. I think there’s some components of marketing which are always going to be less dynamic than others.”
So how does a marketer ensure she’s well educated on the fundamental principles, while also keeping abreast of industry developments?
Powell has everything figured out: “Convergence and integration seem to be buzzword strategies in marketing and media just now. I’d say these are good strategies for a successful marketing career.” She suggests that if marketers get a good undergraduate degree, back it up with work experience, secure an entry-level position in a strong organisation, supplement with industry seminars, short courses and workshops, then come back for an advanced graduate degree later on they won’t go far wrong.