How ‘micro-upskilling’ could get Scottish business back on track - Rachel Aldighieri comment

The Open University’s recent Business Barometer revealed that more than two thirds of respondents in Scotland believe their organisation is currently facing a skills shortage.

Of those, 77 per cent said they are seeing reduced output, profitability or growth as a result. It’s clear that a skilled workforce is critical to economic growth and recovery – particularly when that economy is fuelled by data-driven innovation and is gearing up to be the data capital of Europe.

Yet, in more research from the Open University, the Skills for Success report to be precise, only 50 per cent of business leaders in Scotland say they plan to address digital skills gaps in the next 12 months.

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And it’s easy to see why. Brexit, followed by Covid, and now rising inflation has left many businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), with limited resources – and it’s a brave organisation that chooses to invest in such times.

Yet investing in your people and building greater data literacy and digital skills is exactly what will fuel growth. Beyond attracting and retaining the best talent, investing in data and digital skills will enable business to implement new technology, and boost productivity and innovation.

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How, therefore, do we turn this around and where should businesses be focusing their efforts? There are certain skills that our research has identified that could be prioritised.

In an age where technology and businesses’ digital requirements are rapidly evolving, the future success of SMEs will not just be dependent on investing in the latest technological advancements. It will require skilled marketers to interpret customer data, analyse trends and insights, enhance artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms, and integrate the latest software into operations.

Micro-upskilling can be a key solution for expanding the skillsets of the current workforce by using structured e-learning content, says the DMA (file image). Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto.

The Data & Marketing Association’s (DMA) Professional Skills Census identified a range of areas within data skills where marketers believe a skills gap is present and training is required; analysing customer data/insight, data analysis and reporting, data and database management were the most prevalent.

AI and machine learning was also identified as having a significant skills gap present in a separate DMA report, where 87 per cent of marketers also stated that developing skills in these areas was vital to their organisation’s current success.

But when time is tight, the next challenge is how to ensure upskilling becomes integral and an important – and of course enjoyable – part of everyone’s role.

Develop a continuous learning culture

Rachel Aldighieri, MD of the Data & Marketing Association. Picture: Dandelion Photography UK.

Direction, support and structure are really important to building a learning culture and yet are often the main barriers. For that reason, the DMA is advocating for more “micro-upskilling”. A “little and often” mentality creates a habit that can fit around other responsibilities without damaging productivity – that’s important as technology evolves and professionals increasingly struggle to find the time to upskill via lengthy training days.

Micro-upskilling can be a key solution for expanding the skillsets of the current workforce, by using structured e-learning content for as little as one hour a week per employee.

There are e-learning opportunities available to SMEs that can help plug digital skills gaps. The Data Skills Gateway, part of the Edinburgh & Southeast Scotland Region Deal, brings together the City Region's industry, universities, colleges, schools and others to provide routes into data or digital careers. SMEs can reap the benefits of workforce upskilling with Data Skills for Work through additional funding allocated to this community.

Data Skills for Work is helping SMEs by increasing the data skills of the population of the city region, regardless of background, gender or location. The aim is to have 6,550 learners over an eight-year period (2019-27), who can use an online portal to access pre-approved learning providers and apply for government funding.

It helps employers, and their employees, understand how they can drive value from data and which skills and capabilities they need within their workforce to get there. The DMA’s Institute of Data & Marketing is one of the key providers.

Act now to address talent crisis

Digital skills gaps will only worsen if, as a business community, we do not actively seek a culture change now.

At the DMA, we are starting to work with our community to introduce micro-upskilling as a key element of membership to help marketing personnel enhance their skillsets and drive responsible business growth. We believe micro-upskilling will help to expand the digital and data-driven marketing skills of the current workforce.

There is a vast amount of talent out there ready to advance their digital skillsets – but we must act now to become more productive and drive responsible growth, to ensure Scotland achieves its ambition of the becoming the data capital of Europe.

Rachel Aldighieri, MD of the Data & Marketing Association.

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