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Mark Howley: Nurturing the next generation of digital leaders

by LLB Editor
4th Nov 14 3:15 pm

Mark Howley, group managing director of ZenithOptimedia, on why companies need to make a significant investment in tech talent

The government has recently announced plans to invest £42m as part of its ‘Delivery Plan’ for 2014-15 into digital technologies across the country, a clear indication of the need to keep this thriving industry moving. In recent years the growth and need of digital technology, encompassing everything from digital marketing to gaming and artificial intelligence, has taken off at an extremely fast pace following an insatiable demand from consumers and businesses alike.  Britain is leading the way in this field with recent reports from the Lord Mayor’s office showing that London is now considered Europe’s technology capital, and could grow to be the world’s leading technology hub. In order to maintain this leading position and capitalise on it, there is a real need to ensure we are inspiring the next generation of tech talent.

From a digital marketing perspective technology such as social media and smartphones to big data and search engine optimisation (SEO), allow businesses to get closer to their customers, thus giving them a strategic edge over their competitors. Digital skills now form the bedrock of any successful business and companies must ensure their staff are highly trained to manage this.  

In most business environments today, employees are now expected to have a skill set far beyond what would be traditionally expected. This is particularly true for the media and marketing sectors. More often than not, young entrants must now demonstrate a technological expertise to include data handling and coding through to SEO; skills that typically never sat in the advertiser’s remit. So how can such businesses guarantee that the talent is there to be hired? Ensuring that a talent pool exists to fill these roles is critical for the media and marketing industry to grow and continue to innovate.

Training students before they enter the market is one approach to help ensure that recruits are highly skilled in these new areas, now deemed essential. At ZenithOptimedia, we have recently partnered with Cranfield University School of Management to provide students with firsthand experience alongside the agency’s marketing experts. Learning from experience is an incredibly effective way to develop skills, and a great opportunity to nurture new digital talent; providing them with a firm grounding in the skills required to enter a career in marketing. More businesses should consider partnering with leading institutions in order to help the next generation translate their theoretical knowledge into effective marketing skills which will drive results.

In the marketing industry, our own research shows that the internet is still the fastest-growing medium by some distance with 16% annual growth predicted for 2014 to 2016. It also found that mobile advertising has truly taken off, growing six times faster than desktop internet. It is therefore essential that businesses ensure they foster the necessary skills in new graduates to be able to cope with this changing landscape. This will enable new recruits to operate at their full potential and be primed to adapt to industry changes rapidly and effectively.

Therefore, in the long term, companies need to make a significant investment in tech talent in order to ensure it is taking advantage of opportunities presented by digital technology. Training is one route, but businesses also have a responsibility to nurture their existing employees and allow their digital skills to flourish.

Equally, in order for any company to advance, digital technology has to be fully integrated across the entire organisation. In addition to training new recruits, all existing employees from account leads to company heads must understand the strategic impact of new advances, and ensure that their skills are up to scratch. This can be achieved through regular workshops, bringing in external experts for staff seminars or even starting up an internal lab where employees can test out and familiarise themselves with emerging tech.

Launching ‘digital hubs’ is an increasingly popular way to inspire and nurture tech talent. For example, as Argos seeks to integrate digital into the more traditional elements of its business, it has opened a digital hub in London as it seeks to lure more digital talent to the company. These hubs are an excellent way of unleashing a digital entrepreneurial spirit across the nation encouraging digital to grow within businesses. The digital world is incredibly fast moving so companies need to ensure that hubs, workshops and training are all updated and offered on a regular basis to allow employees to test out the latest technology in order to stay ahead of the curve.

Through continuously developing the skill set of existing employees British businesses will ensure that they are always maturing and pushing boundaries. Building these digital skills encourages innovation and continues to ensure a strategic edge is kept on competitors, allowing companies to always be prepared for the next technical challenge. Only by continually pushing ourselves can we ensure that British businesses will continue to be seen as innovators in the digital space.

Mark Howley is the group managing director of ZenithOptimedia


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