Unlock the full value of martech by closing the skills gap – insights from a training guru
The marketing industry has heard a lot about skills gaps of late. Managing director at IQ for Business, Richard Harris, tells Marketing firms are too obsessed with engaging with the newest technologies, leaving their staff development to the wayside.
The greatest skills gaps in the marketing industry appear among senior roles such as GADs and CMOs, according to research from IQ for Business, ADMA’s new skills assessment and training service. Managing director Richard Harris says firms are all too quick to adopt emerging marketing technologies without paying the same attention to staff development and keeping up with best practice.
With over 20 years of experience in the digital marketing industry in various business development roles, Harris will be leading ADMA’s new business education offering with his keen interest and infectious passion for the industry.
Marketing speaks with Harris to learn more about the skills gap and what firms should be doing about it.
Richard Harris: IQ for business was formed in response to the fact that we are facing a skills shortage in a time when we have a great deal of change impacting our industry. We have seen the take-up of data driven strategies and digital usage increase exponentially over the past five to 10 years, and this is largely due to senior management – like executive boards – starting to understand and trust that, when you take all this data that we have at our disposal and leverage it through very powerful technology, you can produce business value. That can be an opportunity to grow revenue, reduce cost or improve customer service. The problem has been, however, that equation is flawed. It’s when you take that data and you leverage it through powerful technology using skilled professionals – that’s where the value comes in and that’s what’s been missing. For some reason we’ve just assumed that marketing professionals who got their degree 10 years ago have kept up-to-date with technology and best practice, despite the fact that we make them work longer hours and give them less time for their own self-learning and to invest in their own training and development. So that’s what IQ for Business was set up to help businesses come to terms with.
We need to – as business leaders – start to invest in our existing teams because the reality is there is not an infinite pool of skilled people just waiting to be hired. Particularly when you look at some of the new emerging trends – customer experience being one of the major ones – there are very few businesses that do that successfully, so there are very few people out there that have actually got the experience. If you want to build a customer experience fed business you’re going to need to learn to know how to do that with your existing teams. And that’s just one example. When you look at things like AI (artificial intelligence) and blockchain, there are a lot of challenges coming up and it’s going to come down to business finding the means of investing in developing those skills for themselves with their existing teams. So IQ for Business was set up to do a few things; first, help businesses to find what skills they need, given their business strategy; second, understand what skills they have in their existing teams and then help identify where there may be gaps that could present a business risk or a risk to their strategy.
We also provide training services, that can be in the form of advice on how to build a training program for a team, particularly in the 70/20/10 world of on-the-job-training, peer-to-peer coaching etc, but also provide online courses, face-to-face courses or build an in-house training program where we can send instructors out to a business and train their teams specifically in those skills they are looking for. So that’s really the message for IQ for Business: we are here to help businesses meet the challenge of what is an increasingly data driven future.
In which areas are the marketing industry’s skills most lacking?
Interestingly it’s kind of across the board. We’ve assessed almost 1000 marketers now in a variety of roles, from junior to senior. In that assessment we look at their job description within our framework to define that role by its core skills and the capabilities they should have and to what degree of capability. Then we compare what the industry benchmark is for that role versus what the person says their current level is. What we see is: across the board there are gaps. There doesn’t seem to be one specific area that is particularly weak or strong. In the areas of data driven digital marketing, content marketing, analytics and creative, there are gaps across the board.
That being said, where we are starting to see some interesting trends is in the senior level management. We seem to have a lot of senior managers who are not really focused on what is happening in the industry in a strategic way – that could be quite worrying, particularly in a world where we have these emerging technologies (such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, etc). We are also seeing that we’re starting to lose a bit of ground in the data driven space, marketers seem to be coming into the industry as digital natives – so they are quite familiar with social media and so forth, but they lack the understanding of what data can do and how to use it effectively as a tool for business.
With the constant introduction of new technologies to this industry, do you see the skills gap widening or closing in the coming years?
It has to close. There are three ways I think that the skills gap will close:
- Already we are seeing a lot of organisations start to focus on team training and development as part of their strategy – they are seeing that in order to retain staff and get the skills that they want, they have to start making significant investments in training. There are some organisations that are clearly leading the way on that. Companies like Optus and Telstra both have very robust training processes; organisations like the Commonwealth Bank deliberately call out staff training as part of why they want to be a leader of choice.
- When we see employee feedback, one of the consistent things from any industry – regardless of size or channel format – is the staff always want more training. So when the staff understand that they need to be trained and have their skills developed, the business obviously starts to see that too. The budgets that are being set aside for training and development are still way too small. Current industry thinking (with firms like Forrester and the like) is that whatever you spend on your new technology, you should be spending the same on process improvement and on training your staff – because lack of skills is the number one reason why these new technologies really do fail.
- With the advent of new technologies that will take over a lot of the functional roles – managing email communications, managing the website CMS (customer management system), real-time decisioning through AI and machine learning and so forth – that is going to free up a lot of people to do other things and that’s where we will start to see the evolution of skills moving a bit further away from the transactional/technical skills and much more into the creative problem solving. We are going to be needing to bring in a lot more transportable skills – so people from other industries who could come into marketing and bring skills that we previously haven’t needed before. Product manager, for example, there are skills in there that are easily translated into marketing.
What are dormant skills? And what are the most common dormant skills among professionals?
The number one skill that people really should be focusing on is the ability to learn. There are untold resources out there now and no excuse for people not to know something – but what it takes is the ability to learn. In terms of identifying, ‘what is it I’m trying to learn and understand? What resources should I be using?’, finding the time and having the discipline to go ahead and do that learning – if you have the ability to learn a new concept, adapt and apply it quickly – that is probably going to be the number one skill. And, like any other skill, I suspect that can be taught, learned and improved upon over time. In terms of the transportable skills, this is going to come down to those softer skills.
Such as the ability to communicate – I’m not simply talking in a one-on-one meeting or even about public speaking, but the ability to write a document that is going to be read by a number of stakeholders, the ability to tell a story with data rather than just showing raw facts on a slide – these are the things that are very transportable. If you look at the analytics industry, an analyst doesn’t care if they are a financial services business, a charity or an FMCG because really what they are doing is largely the same. The outputs and data sets may be different, but the approach is very similar. There are those kinds of skills you find in business – the strong business acumen, the ability to communicate effectively, creative problem solving, the ability to work collaboratively in a team etc. Those are far more powerful in a world where there is so much change and ambiguity happening, you’re not necessarily going to be an expert on everything, so that ability to work and build off each other will be very important.
Where this starts, of course, is employers need to start looking for skills rather than experience. If you look at the roles that are being advertised, a lot of them still looking for ‘five years’ experience in this industry’ or ‘three years’ experience doing this kind of role’. The problem with that is there is only a finite number of people who have those skills – all we’re doing (as demand increases) is increasing the cost of those people. Whereas, someone who walks in and has a demonstrable ability to quickly understand new concepts, a strong work ethic and works well within a team – those kinds of things are probably going to be far more valuable in the future than they are now and should be valued much more highly.
What can businesses do themselves to address skills gaps in their own teams?
My two messages now are:
Businesses need to do more. There is a lot of media attention on, ‘why are we not getting graduates out of university with the right skills, particularly in marketing?’ And I have a problem with that criticism because that’s not the role of universities in this instance. They are still teaching the fundamentals of marketing, which is important. But, more important, is what a university does – it brings together somebody who’s been brought around the inner-city suburbs with someone who’s grown up in the outer-suburbs, puts them in an environment together that exposes them to new ideas and concepts and teaches them how to learn. Universities will never be able to keep up with the pace of technological change; it’s just not how they operate and I don’t think they can or should change that model, because they would miss out on some of the other things. What we need universities to be doing is producing more well-rounded people who are coming into the workforce with a broad set of softer skills that we can then lay over the top of the technical skills. So businesses need to do more to invest in those skills and make sure that we are taking up the burden of providing those technical skills because they change day-in and day-out.
The second thing is, it always comes back down to the individual – making sure that you are investing a certain proportion of your time in learning and understanding your concepts. Aside from that, there is a lot of focus right now on privacy, as there should be. With the GDPR (general data protection regulation) coming in, the mandatory data breach notification and additions to the Privacy Act – our whole industry needs to be far more than I think it has been on privacy. Take the idea of understanding what data you have and how you’re using it; this will be vital as consumers become more educated, more aware over their privacy and want more rights. We are going to have to demonstrate that we are responsible with that data and that we are using it for the right reasons.
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