It should come as no surprise to you that technology is increasingly shaping the way that we live and work. More often than not, everything that we consume or interact with has a digital presence. With the majority of young adults glued to the likes of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat, companies and brands are constantly having to innovate and keep up with the way they use social and digital marketing. However, with the industry skills gap ever-present in our minds, what can we be doing as parents, educators and employees to help ensure both the current and next generation are equipped with the right skills to enter rapidly evolving sectors like digital marketing?

When looking to start a career in digital marketing, it can be overwhelming. There are so many options available including free online courses, workshops, apprenticeships and full and part-time in-person courses or degrees. It can be hard to know which is best suited to their needs. One thing is for sure though; in order to become a true digital marketer, experience is required.

Experience is essential

In a poll from The Independent, 58 per cent of employers rated work experience as their most looked for qualification, with personality coming in second at 48 per cent. Time and time again, work experience is proven to outweigh grades or even a university degree in terms of value.

But then comes the catch-22 situation; how can someone get a job without experience or the experience without a job?

Networking events can be a great way to provide individuals with a snapshot of an industry and the various roles that lie within it. It’s a great opportunity to meet like-minded people, professionals and contacts within industries to gain an idea of what a career in digital marketing may look like. Equally, panel debates can generate interesting conversations on topics that are likely making headlines, helping to determine the specific areas and expertise that individuals want to improve and build upon.

Workshops can also be a really valuable way of engaging people with the key issues of an industry. For example, with the ever-increasing digital skills gap, attending a workshop that covers basic digital skills including search engine optimisation (SEO), social media or other aspects of digital marketing, could be incredibly helpful for someone just starting out in the industry. There is of course the additional benefit of being able to speak directly to the hosts about their own experiences in the industry and to network with potential employers and peers.

With so many new graduates lacking the skills listed as ‘Essential’ on job specs, and often nobody willing to give them that break to gain the necessary experience, it’s no surprise that many look to self-taught opportunities to boost their knowledge. While online courses and free resources are great tools to get started, students could be left feeling helpless when they are not able to find the answers or anyone to compare notes with. Understanding the tricks of this trade is simply not something that can be learned from a book. Therefore, identifying a suitable path that combines technical skills, first hand insight and the ability to make strategic decisions using critical thinking, will ensure that students are able to gain a true understanding of what is expected in the digital marketing sector and the day-to-day tasks they would likely be involved with.

Gaining a competitive edge

At RED Academy, our digital marketing courses are designed to give students a competitive edge by covering all aspects of a digital marketing strategy, while providing them with hands-on experience, allowing them to build a portfolio with real clients.

Hands-on work experience allows students to actually get a feel for the working environment and establishing this work-readiness mindset is of course a benefit to both the employer and employee. As Kristy Bates, marketing manager at Uber says: “When you’re hiring, it’s a given that you want someone who checks the boxes, but what sets someone apart is their ability to elevate those around them. You want to find the person that can come in, take the ball and run with it.”

When it comes to digital marketing, students will often need a broad skillset that encompasses social media, SEO, analytics, advertising and content marketing. While there is plenty of content out there covering the basics, being able to put this into practice by working on projects with support from industry experts and real clients is where the most valuable experience can be gained. Therefore, courses and projects where you can put theory to the test and take part in activities in an agency-style or work place environment is key.

It’s never too late

Changing careers can be a daunting prospect, but it needn’t be a lengthy process. There are shorter courses available which enable individuals to retrain and enter a new job with the necessary skills and confidence to succeed.

A perfect example of this smooth career transition is Nav Uppal. She had previously trained as a makeup artist at Nordstrom before deciding to change career paths and take a digital marketing course. As a graduate, she is now working as an SEO specialist at Daily Hive. Talking about how she got the job, she said: “Having both the technical and soft skills helped me determine my personal market value. The hands on experience I got allowed me to go into my interview with the confidence I needed to land my job!”

Similarly to this, short-term or part-time courses can also suit those looking to upskill in their current workplace or sector, giving organisations the reassurance that their employees’ knowledge remains current, relevant and reflects the growing changes of the tech industry.

Final thoughts

With only about 50 per cent of UK students choosing to go to university, there are many alternative opportunities gaining traction each year. Ultimately, by combining real world knowledge and classroom instruction with support from working professionals, students can make important networking connections, build social capital and skills, and not only increase their chances of landing a job, but successfully prove their worth and value to their employer.

James Potten

James Potten


James Potten is Managing Director of Red Academy