Andrew Girdwood: Scotland needs the full suite of digital skills
Scotland's pool of digital talent is growing but more emphasis is needed on tech 'soft skills' says Andrew Girdwood.
There are many great gaming companies in Scotland with fantastic digital artists and programmers.
Incubator and entrepreneurial spaces in Glasgow and Edinburgh like TechCube and CodeBase are helping create digital start-ups.
Mobile first businesses like Mallzee and Cuvva are taking off and coding academy, CodeClan looks to be an early success; helping people learn software development and how to build websites.
Yet, it’s not enough.
I don’t want to diminish these victories but we need to acknowledge there is more to do.
In 2014 a Digital Scotland report found that most companies rated online marketing as crucial to their success and yet a similar number admitted they did not have the skills to match those business needs.
It isn’t just marketing skills missing from the Scottish talent ecosystem but analytics, hosting, social CRM, and strategy.
It can even be challenging to find someone with the skillset to transform a CSV of a site’s catalogue into a spreadsheet, pivot and compare stock numbers to best sellers.
These skills are hard to learn on the job. Many training courses are fairly cheap but often barely offer more than common sense advice. Masterclass training courses are far harder to find.
Paul Monteath, director of start-up The Digital Co, told me:
“98 per cent of businesses in Scotland are small, and whilst an understanding of the nuts and bolts of a website is valuable, small businesses must maximise the return on their limited time.
“The costs of traditional consultancy, training and travel to gain the softer digital skills make investing in quality online marketing training extremely difficult for most SMEs.”
Having access to the full suite of digital skills is important. Employing the talent to build an ecommerce platform is the first step. Having the skills to run the site, grow the customer base and improve profitably through digital marketing is the second step that is often missing.
So where is Scotland’s next ecommerce success?
Training a generation of growth hackers is great but we need people with the skills to grow small businesses into larger ones. Last year a Federation of Small Businesses report stated a fifth of SMEs admitted the shortage in marketing skills was the single biggest barrier to growth prospects.
Programmers could, but shouldn’t, step in to update Wordpress, build paid search campaigns or wrestle with Facebook’s ad platform. The issue isn’t about stretching people too thin or the inefficient use of resources. “Soft” digital skills are most effective when combined with offline expertise.
After all, it isn’t always Facebook that is responsible for a customer placing on order but sometimes a newspaper mention, a poster placement or TV ad.
People-centric and operational digital skills are vital. They allow Scottish businesses, small or large, to run fully connected marketing campaigns and cope with changing customer needs.
MediaCom Edinburgh’s managing director, David Shearer, spoke to me about the importance of having a fully connected strategy.
“In the media landscape nowadays, everything is digital which allows everything to be connected. This reality makes it increasingly complex and therefore challenging to engage with consumers.
“To do this effectively should mean everyone involved in the marketing eco-system understands both their own particular area of expertise as well as how this fits within the connected system as, after all, they’re inextricably linked and impact on each other.”
Let’s continue to build Scotland’s programming and hardcore digital skills. Let us also step up with the production of first class digital marketing, analytics and digital business science skills as well. If we don’t then Scottish companies will keep heading south in search of solutions.