DMA calls for ‘realistic’ approach to skills development after success of ‘micro-upskilling’ pilot

Almost four in 10 of those marketers who took part in the DMA’s digital micro-upskilling scheme preferred it to their previous learning experiences.

Training and developmentUpskilling in marketing must be compatible with daily business needs, particularly as the current tough economic environment puts companies’ resources under extreme pressure, argues the Data and Marketing Association (DMA)’s managing director Rachel Aldighieri.

The DMA’s ‘micro-upskilling’ pilot, launched in July 2022, has shown itself to be a potential solution to the problem. The initiative involved 150 marketers across 16 businesses undertaking as little as one hour a week of upskilling to develop their digital skills.

Analysing the results of the pilot six months on, the DMA has found over half (52%) of learners report feeling more engaged with upskilling as a result of the scheme, and 46% developed new skills that they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.

The pilot was launched in a bid to help the marketing industry address its significant data and digital skills gap. Data from the 2023 Marketing Week Career and Salary Survey reveals over a third (34.4%) of the more than 3,000 marketers surveyed say data and analytics skills is the key gap within their team.

One important step in closing this gulf is continuous staff training, says the DMA. However, that upskilling must be “realistic” and fit in with a business’s daily priorities.

“We were hearing from our members that in current economic times, people are up against it, so finding time to dedicate to training is increasingly challenging,” Aldighieri says.

We’re enabling businesses to start plugging that gap and do it in a way that is conducive to economic and business growth.

Rachel Aldighieri, DMA

The core goals of the pilot were to make training “more accessible, more engaging and more effective”. According to the managing director, it met these objectives and more.

Indeed, almost four in 10 learners found micro-upskilling better than their previous learning experiences.

Now the DMA is calling on businesses across the UK to introduce continuous learning schemes within their teams.

“Traditional learning has its place and going on a 10-week course does add valuable skill sets, but you’ve got to take significant time out of your diary to be able to do that,” Aldighieri notes.

Another advantage of micro-upskilling is that it can be tweaked to suit learners’ needs. The scheme gave participants the ability to focus their learning on “that week’s problem”, she explains, and then go away and immediately apply the lessons.

Business advantage

Building skills in the industry is closely related to building for business growth, Aldighieri says, arguing that upskilling shouldn’t just be thought about in terms of the benefit to the individual learner.

According to research carried out last year by the Open University in partnership with the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), 78% of organisations are seeing reduced output, profitability, or growth due to skills shortages.

“We’re enabling businesses to start plugging that gap and do it in a way that is conducive to economic and business growth,” says Aldighieri.

The role the skills gap is playing in limiting the growth of the marketing and advertising industries was recognised last week by digital, culture, media and sports (DCMS) secretary Michelle Donelan.

Speaking at the joint Advertising Association, IPA and ISBA LEAD 2023 conference, she said closing the skills gap among existing and future workers was her department’s “number one priority” regarding the marketing and advertising industry.

Culture secretary promises to ‘go further’ to address marketing’s skills crisis

“We are in a very fortunate position of having a booming creative economy. Our challenge now is to help people fill all of those jobs,” Donelan said.

In 2019, there were over 3,500 “hard to fill” roles in marketing and advertising, according to a recent report from the Advertising Association and industry thinktank Credos. The report said this is likely to have increased since the pandemic, with businesses struggling both to recruit and retain talent.

Upskilling could be a powerful way to retain talent, however, as LinkedIn research found 94% of employees would have stayed in their role longer if their employer had invested more time into their professional development.

While the DMA’s micro-upskilling scheme sees employees undertake as little as an hour per week of learning, over two-thirds (67%) of participants believe the scheme has made their organisation more engaged with their skills development.

One in three (33%) of those who took part in the scheme said they would be more likely to stay at their organisation if micro-upskilling was to be permanently introduced.

Leading from the top

While nine in 10 of those who took part in the scheme said they would like to continue with micro-upskilling within their organisations, finding time to do so during the pilot was a challenge for 60% of those who took part.

A similar number (55%) said they had too many competing priorities, which posed a challenge to completing the training.

While micro-upskilling is a “manageable” way to embed learning into organisations, it still requires support from leadership in businesses.

“This whole programme is about building these continuous learning cultures and that can only happen if the leadership are giving direction, support, and structure to employees,” Aldighieri says.

The scheme forms one part of the DMA’s wider campaign to close the skills gap within the industry, she notes. For the campaign to be successful, it is essential for industry leaders to buy in.

“It’s important that leadership recognises skills as an opportunity for boosting productivity and growth,” she concludes.