Preparing SA's Youth to Enter the World of Digital Marketing

The truth is that we are a relatively new but rapidly growing industry. As a whole, we are experiencing skill shortages in most departments, and a lot of the talent that we hire is either not cut out for the job or requires a lot of training in order to reach a workable level. 

Also, despite the fact that South Africa has over 25 million internet users who spend five hours a day accessing the ‘net from their computers and laptops, and at least three hours a day from their smartphones (using a considerable amount of that time following brands on social media and engaging in ecommerce) most people, when asked, have no idea what digital marketing is.

How is it possible that one of the fastest growing industries in our country doesn’t exist in the public’s mind or, at least, in the minds of graduates? And why are the newbies who enter the industry so ill-prepared, or downright unsuited, for this line of work? Let’s investigate.   

To what extent is the education system to blame?

Being a content manager by trade, this much I know for certain: the basic education system in South Africa makes it a considerable struggle to find content writers who have a solid grasp of the English language. Furthermore, you need people with fast-paced creative minds and an impeccable work ethic to get the job done. All these things, I believe, can and should be taught at school.

Ensuring that a child is language proficient before they leave school should be a given, I feel. Developing a child’s creative problem solving skills is important, as every child psychologist will tell you, and should be made part of a child’s educational curriculum as early as Grade R. Most schools in this country, however, do not bother with these imperatives.  As for work ethic: a strict code of conduct (which every school has, but most struggle to enforce) is bound to make a reliable adult out of even the most unruly child.

The education system in this country needs to start producing responsible, language proficient adults who are capable of original thought. If not, every industry in this country will suffer as a result, and not just ours.

What about the digital marketing schools?

Formal training institutions have popped up all over the country, declaring that they are able to prepare youngsters for the rigmarole of the digital industry. Most of these, however, only focus on teaching students how to develop creative concepts and don’t take the practicalities of our industry into account.

If they want to prepare youngsters for the world of digital marketing, they need to teach them how to work within the confines of exceptionally detailed client briefs and how to go about identifying creative nooks when limited by a company’s CI guide and in-house marketing strategy.

At the end of the day, a digital marketing agency is not an advertising agency. We don’t develop brand identities; we simply raise awareness about them within the digital sphere. This does not mean that there is no space for creativity, but it does mean that there is no space for creating grand, brand-defining campaigns. You have to work with what the brand’s ad agency came up with and remain within the bounds of their creative concept at all times.

What other shortages are there?

Shortages can also be found in the technical departments of the industry because, apart from good old SEO and website design, even certain content deliverables now demand a level of technical expertise (think interactive eBooks and videos). This, of course means that, to a certain degree, there can be a level of creativity attached to the type of technical work that you do in this industry.

Other industry positions which constantly pop up in job portals include: community manager, designer, strategist, distribution specialist, traffic manager, client service staff and business development specialist. All of these play a critical role in a digital agency, as most of them do in other industries.

The list keeps on growing because we are an innovative industry, and with new innovations come new roles and responsibilities.

So why are people not aware of this industry?

That one’s easy: because we, the industry experts, don’t bother raising awareness about it. 

So what can we do?

We, as digital marketing specialists, should make a habit of visiting high schools and tertiary institutions with the goals of educating children and students about the industry and the available positions. Industry seminars should extend free invitations to university students (any idea about how many opportunities are available for a graduate with an English degree?) and more companies should open their doors to interns.  If we don’t do this, and if we don’t take matters into our own hands, we’ll soon find ourselves without a workforce or with a workforce that is only capable of mediocre output.   

We have to be charitable with our knowledge and time in the present to ensure a notable future for our industry. 

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