Digital skill levels in Ireland are on the decline despite the evidence that this is where jobs growth will be for some time, according to the Digital Marketing Institute. Internationally, Irish digital managers are just average in terms of skills and performance.
The Digital Marketing Institute digital skills report for 2016 found that digital skills in Ireland were on a par with the UK (37pc) and the US (38pc), highlighting an emerging trend of low digital competence across the three economies.
A score of at least 60pc is needed to achieve entry-level competency in digital marketing.
‘If we strike first and strike hard we can gain market share across the EU for our e-commerce companies’
– IAN DODSON
In Ireland, the most significant drop in skills was in the mobile category with a test result of 40pc on average, down from 47pc in 2014. There were also reductions in skills in search (37pc vs 41pc), display (35pc vs 39pc), strategy (38pc vs 40pc), email (38pc vs 40pc) and social media (37pc vs 40pc).
Findings from the test showed that older participants aged 50-plus (39pc) and aged 34 to 49 (40pc) performed better than their younger counterparts aged 18 to 34 (34pc).
Participants in Dublin (42pc) fared better than non-Dublin participants (37pc), although there was a sharp drop in the capital, down from 48pc in 2014. Overall, self-employed participants fared best of all (43pc), compared to those employed full-time (36pc) and part-time (34pc).
Ian Dodson, chief executive of the Digital Marketing Institute, said that there is a disconnect in terms of how proficient people think they are and how proficient they really are at digital.
“Before people took the test we asked them to rate their competency in digital marketing. 59pc rated themselves as being competent but, when we actually tested them, only 8pc actually achieved a score of proficiency or higher.
“There is a disconnect between people’s perceptions of themselves and their results, though they do seem to recognise that their organisations aren’t keeping up. Nearly 60pc of Irish people surveyed believe that their organisation is not very competent at digital despite being involved in it. In the global context, this is worrying, as less than half of those we surveyed in the UK and the US believed the same of their organisations. In other words, they’re not doing great abroad, but we’re perceived to be doing worse.”
Dodson said that the blame shouldn’t be levelled at executives themselves but rather the organisations they work for, which aren’t making the investment in training.
“Only one in four people surveyed in Ireland had been offered training in digital marketing by their organisation, and one in five in the US and UK. Combine that with the fact that half of those surveyed across the markets believe their organisations are not very competent at digital and you would seem to have a clear disconnect.
“A more fundamental challenge perhaps in digital is that there aren’t very many standards. Hire an accountant or a lawyer or an engineer and there are very clear career roadmaps, things they need to know and have demonstrated they know before they start the job.
“Digital is an evolving but highly measurable, almost scientific occupation. Ask five different hiring managers what makes a good paid search or email or e-commerce specialist, however, and you’ll get six different answers. So we have people not receiving enough training, and perhaps not learning the right things to match against the jobs they’re being asked to do.”
Digital’s mid-life crisis
So is digital just a younger person’s game or are decision-makers having a mid-life crisis?
“There seems to be this logical fallacy accepted as common wisdom that the generation who have grown up with smartphones and Facebook will automatically be equipped to run omnichannel marketing campaigns. We actually found that those aged 18 to 34 scored, on average, worse than any other age group, including the over 50s.
“Undoubtedly, younger workers will be closer to emerging platforms and trends in digital, but there is a multitude of other skills required to successfully operate in digital marketing. The simple fact is that they’re not being equipped with those skills today on their journey to the workforce,” Dodson said.
The digital single market is the EU’s attempt to rip down barriers between cross-country commerce that’s happening online. At present, only 7pc of EU small and medium-sized businesses sell cross-border. By removing barriers and standardising the market, the EU hopes to add €415bn to the European economy.
Dodson said that Ireland has been identified in a report commissioned by Google as being among the front-runners in Europe to benefit from this, with our share of the economy that comes from e-business already exceeding the European average.
“If we strike first and strike hard we can gain market share across the EU for our e-commerce companies. We see this already with MicksGarage, for example, a business that has gone from selling car parts out of Ballymount to being a Europe-wide player with the infrastructure and, more critically, ambition to play at that scale.
“But the Google report also points out that the opportunity may be fleeting. There are hungry businesses in nations like the Netherlands, Finland and Norway that are known for moving fast and getting things done, and we can’t be waiting around when this big opportunity to grab market share in a newly opened field presents itself.
“We need Irish businesses that are selling online to think beyond the counties and consider the countries of the EU that are increasingly accessible. It’s one of the reasons why, for example, we’re including a lot more about cross-border e-commerce into our syllabus going forward. There’s a huge opportunity there and the barriers to entry are relatively small compared to what they were only five or ten years ago.”