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Mind the (Digital Skills) Gap

Source: TechCityInsider

Our partner TechCityInsider is every bit as interested as we are in finding ways to bridge the skills gap.

So we were ecstatic when they asked our UK Marketing Manager, Emily Varns to write an article for them about the differences between what industry needs and what secondary education provides, and-—best of all-—what people can do to change all that!

Our thanks to the folks at TechCityInsider for allowing us to repost their original article.

TECH CITY FUTURES: As a creative recruitment agency, we’re well placed to have some insight into creative agencies and the problems they face when hiring creatives.

One of the issues we hear from our clients time and again is how to fill the gap between the skills that students gain at university and the skills they need to get a job. This is especially true with user experience, as there is a huge lack of talented UX professionals who are able to meet the demands of industry.

Universities teach creativity and design principles – which is what they should be doing and which is certainly a critical element of any creative degree. However, employers looking to hire junior creatives are looking for additional skills that aren’t being taught, such as how students present themselves or their work, the importance of ROI for clients, the lifecycle of a project, and how agencies work. Or even the latest technical skills that follow trends in development and user experience.

As Jim Bowes, CEO of the digital agency Manifesto, told us. “junior creatives don’t seem to be able to take a brief through to final creative. They have no idea what makes a successful campaign. They need to be taught more than just the tools of design.”

Some universities are aware of this gap and appear to be making moves to help the situation by partnering with relevant companies, which offers benefits for both parties. It allows the company to influence some of the skills the students are taught, making them ideal candidates to employ after graduation. This in turn benefits the students: Even if they don’t receive a job offer from the partner company, they are taught practical work skills to make them more employable candidates.

There are also several universities that offer year-long work experience placements as part of the degree, where creatives can learn some of the more practical skills whilst working at a company.

Some companies offer great programmes that aim to bridge the gap. For example, SAS London offers both a scholarship program and an internship scheme. As Michael Dowell, digital design director at SAS London, told us, “we believe it to be of utmost importance for the industry to help support and nurture future creativity. Building strong relationships can only have a positive impact on the UK’s design industry.”

Of course, there are other ways graduates can get work-ready. Up-skilling through additional training, online courses, or self-motivated projects are all ways in which they can help give themselves a competitive edge.

Either way, technology today is moving at such a fast pace that part of the problem educators are facing is that no one knows where technology will take us in two to three years’ time. How can they train the talent of tomorrow when we don’t know what tomorrow will bring? Education and training should perhaps take a more radical approach.

Long gone are the days when education finished with a degree. People need to continue working and training throughout their careers to stay relevant and competitive in today’s market. In the future, apprenticeships may be the way forward. Opting for continuous training on the job, which means learning in the real world, avoids the large debt associated with universities and keeps you up to date.

User experience is another area with an obvious skills shortage. It is such a huge area of growth, and there are just not enough talented UX professionals able to meet the demand. The missing element is the ‘experience’. More people are getting trained or moving across to UX as a profession, but they don’t yet have enough years in the industry.

Because of this, experienced UX professionals can demand the highest wages and be very particular about the job positions they select. It’s those companies based outside of London that are struggling most, as talent is choosing work closest to where it lives – which in most cases is London.

UX professionals also tend to prefer to work on a freelance basis for the same reason. They can demand higher pay rates working on a freelance basis and, as work is currently plentiful, there is no need to opt for the security offered in a permanent role.

As Julie Kennedy, head of user experience at Daily Mail Group, says, “there are not enough great UX people to meet the demand. Recruiting full-time workers over freelancers is a big challenge with high contract rates. That’s why a temp-to-perm solution is great for introducing a talent into the team.“

Another issue is the understanding of a UX role. Many clients are unsure what skills they need on their team and what is offered from a UX or a UI (user interface) professional. As a company we advise on this and encourage our clients to share their reasons for any new hires, so we can make sure we are making the correct match. One way we ensure the best matches is by using our panel of senior UX pros to provide a technical skills assessment and rating of every UX talent who works through us, which we call our expert interview process.

At Vitamin T, we offer initiatives to help creatives and developers stay competitive, whether they are graduates or have been in the industry for several years. These include creative portfolio reviews, tips on CVs, portfolios, and interview techniques. We also run free online training courses on topics such as coding for designers and responsive web design. This in turn helps those clients who are looking to hire, as we are able to offer talent with some of the additional skills required and goes towards bridging the skills gap.

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