Digital Education: How Should We Bridge The Gap?

How do we bridge the gap in digital education? This is a serious question facing many employers and recent graduates that needs addressing.  A recent study at the end of 2013 found that The UK needs 750,000 highly skilled digital workers by 2017 (source)  Quite alarmingly, if we don’t support that growth, the UK could stand to lose as much as £2 billion per annum.

Businesses are looking for employees with specific digital skills which perhaps a few years ago, didn’t even exist. 

The report, which was conducted on behalf of O2 by Development Economics, makes three recommendations in regards to digital education:

  • Greater collaboration between government and business to improve awareness of digital as a career path for young people.
  • Businesses and industry to increase support for the delivery of digital education in schools.
  • Backing from government and businesses to increase engagement in digital skills exchange programmes to encourage small businesses to better support and offer young people work experience.

I recently attended an event held by Newcastle College Digital Skills Academy where we discussed this issue.  The event was attended by industry experts, educators and students.  What came out of the meeting is that education is struggling to keep up with the speed of digital. It is no wonder looking at the rate in which new technologies and platforms are being developed that by the time you finish a course, some of even all of what you are learning could be quickly out of date.

The report by O2 shows the reality of the digital skills gap with large and compelling figures.  However I have seen it first hand in the workplace. Many people think that young people will come out of college and university ready to fall into digital jobs because they are “native”.  Having worked with many young people entering the work force this simply isn’t true.  If we take the case of social media marketing.  Yes many of the know what Facebook and Twitter are, but that doesn’t mean they have the skills to manage a social media campaign or implement a strategy.  How could this even be possible for them to do when their lecturers will not have had the chance to do that in a practical setting as many of the platforms and techniques are so new.

To be clear this is not an attack on the education professionals, as they agree that it is difficult for them to teach up to date marketing techniques as they are changing so rapidly.  Surely there is a better way.

Improving Digital Education

I have spoken to educators and organisations that are looking to tackle this issue and the consensus is that there needs to be some support from the digital industry.  Through education, placement, partnerships we can get people up to speed much quicker than the sterile classroom environment.

This issue is not exclusive to the youth, many of the current job seekers and even people in more traditional marketing roles are looking for ways to increase their transferable skills.  Many people, to the detriment of many organisations were shoe horned into digital and in recent years social roles as the market created a need for them.  This has left many marketing departments with a lack of real substantial expertise. A recent study found that almost half of London’s Tech City’s businesses say a shortage of skilled workers is the biggest challenge they face as an organisation.  77% say that they could grow faster if there were better skilled individuals available to them. If this is a problem in London  you can only imagine the issues in other areas of the UK.

What do you think the best solution to digital education improvement is? If you are reading from outside of the UK I am extremely interested in the digital education solutions that have been put in place in your area.

Here are two awesome resources to test your digital skills

Digital Skills Index by eConsultancy 

digital skills test

The Social Marketers Quiz by Beta21 and Circus Social

social marketing skills