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5 reasons for our digital skills deficit as research shows competence gap widening

'Dangerous fallacy' of intuitive digital natives leaves business without properly skilled employees

22nd September, 2016
Young people believe they are more digitally competent than they are

The ECDL foundation has described as a "dangerous fallacy" the concept of the digital native as new research shows that digital skill levels are tumbling, most particularly among the young.

A just-published Digital Marketing Institute research report, meanwhile, highlights a widening digital skills gap in Ireland.

Marketing professionals in Ireland have an average skill level of just 38 per cent, down four points since 2014, according to the new report, "Missing the Mark: The digital marketing skills gap in Ireland, UK and USA".

Ian Dodson, founder and chief executive of the Digital Marketing Institute

DMI chief executive Ian Dodson says: "There is this logical fallacy out there that just because young people are from the Facebook and smartphone generation, it means they're going to rock up to their first corporate job knowing how to run a killer paid search campaign in Google."

Europe-wide ICT training body ECDL has said that young people are being left without basic workplace competencies and businesses without skilled employees.

The ECDL believes that at a time when tech skills are essential in almost any job, studies have repeatedly shown that young people have serious gaps in their knowledge of workplace ICT.

A recent study in Australia, for example, showed that only 15 per cent of students could be described as advanced digital technology users while 45 per cent had only rudimentary skills.

Young people confuse the ability to use social networks with being able to, for instance, mobilise software to see data patterns. Yet the term digital literacy is used to apply to both of these scenarios.

Here are five reasons why digital skills are in deficit in Ireland:

1) Lack of standardisation of competency frameworks

2) Only one in four practitioners has received training from their organisation

3) An individual perception gap: While 59 per cent of people rate themselves as being competent, only eight per cent actually achieved a test score of competency.

4) Logical fallacy: facility in smartphone or social network usage does not signify digital competence

5) Qualifications and continuous education need to bring a clearly-understood basket of skills to the workplace

Notwithstanding a lack of preparedness, seven out of ten workers believe that digital marketing is critical to their firm’s future.

Digital skill levels in Ireland continue to fall, according to the report, with marketing professionals scoring just 38 per cent in an international digital skills test, down from 42 per cent in 2014.

The Digital Marketing Institute digital skills report finds that Ireland is on a par with Britain and the USA, both on 38 per cent, highlighting an emerging trend of low digital competence across the three economies.

The new report, Missing the Mark: The digital marketing skills gap in Ireland, UK and USA, was conducted by market research firm Behaviour & Attitudes.

A score of at least 60 per cent is needed to achieve entry-level competency in digital marketing.

In Ireland, the most significant drop in skills was in the mobile category with a test result of 40 per cent on average, down from 47 per cent in 2014.

There were also reductions in skills in search (37 per cent as against 41 per cent), display (35 per cent as against 39 per cent), strategy (38 per cent as against 40 per cent), email (38 per cent as against 40 per cent) and social media (37 per cent as against 40 per cent).

Findings from the test showed that older participants aged 50+ (39 per cent) and aged 34-49 (40 per cent) performed better than their younger counterparts, aged 18-34 (34 per cent).

Participants in Dublin (42 per cent) fared better than those outside Dublin (37 per cent), although there was a sharp drop in the capital, down from 48 per cent in 2014.

Overall, self-employed participants fared best of all (43 per cent), compared to those employed full-time (36 per cent) and part-time (34 per cent).

Ian Dodson, founder and CEO of the Digital Marketing Institute said “Ireland’s digital marketing skills base has dropped since 2014.

"One could argue that the field has become more complex as it develops, but it is both disappointing and a cause for concern that general digital marketing skill sets remain low and have continued to fall over the last two years.

“There is huge potential for Ireland Inc to benefit from the EU’s plan to harmonise regulations and create a single digital economy in Europe. This must not become a lost opportunity through a declining skills base.”

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, said: “Ireland has been an open economy that has historically reached out to the wider world to develop exports, trade and services.

"The EU’s plans to create a digital single market, by harmonising regulations across member states, presents another opportunity for Irish businesses to expand their footprint across the EU.

"A recent report by Boston Consulting Group estimated that Ireland could add more than 140,000 new jobs and increase GDP by €27 billion through the creation of a digital single market.

“Ireland has been at the forefront of the rise of the global digital economy to date with many leading Irish companies successfully competing internationally, as well as iconic digital companies setting up operations here. However, change also brings its challenges so we must seek to embrace digitisation and ensure that skill levels among our marketing teams are among the best in the EU.”

The report also highlights a worrying discrepancy between self-perception and the reality of digital skills levels in Ireland and abroad.

In contrast to the test results, when surveyed, 59 per cent of respondents in Ireland believe themselves to be "very or fairly competent" at digital marketing skills.

The younger the respondent, the more competent they believe themselves to be.

The survey also reveals marketing professionals in Ireland to be the least confident about their organisations’ overall digital skill levels, with 59 per cent more likely to agree that their organisation ‘is involved in digital marketing, but not very competent’, compared to their counterparts in the USA (47 per cent) and the UK (46 per cent).

Only one in four marketers (25 per cent) said their company had offered them training in digital marketing, slightly more than the UK (20 per cent) and the USA (18 per cent).

A lack of resources is cited as the single greatest challenge to improving digital skills within organisations, according to 60 per cent of respondents in Ireland.

A further 55 per cent of professionals in Ireland say the pace of technological change within their organisations is too slow.

A full 72 per cent of Irish workers agree that becoming "more digitally focused will be critical to their organisation in the next two years".

A total of 80 per cent of Irish workers believe they need to improve their digital skills for their careers to progress.

Meanwhile 30 per cent of Irish marketing professionals believe their jobs will be replaced in the next 30 years by robots and / or computers.

The report can be downloaded at: https://digitalmarketinginstitute.com/requested-download/download-2016-digital-report

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