It is no secret that social media has become a key focus for many companies’ digital marketing activities, and continues to grow in importance even as user behaviours and preferences change.
Despite research showing increasing diversification in social activity, with some social networks – namely Facebook – losing out to other platforms, the fact remains that social networking, in whatever form, is still on an upward trend.
So how are businesses and marketing professionals ensuring that they have the skills necessary to succeed in this challenging and rapidly changing environment?
Well, it is no easy feat. According to Adobe’s Digital Distress Report, released at the end of 2013, a great majority of digital marketing professionals (82%) say that they learn on the job, while only an average of 17% have attended an online, in-person or in-school training programme. While a slightly greater proportion, 26%, claim that they attend relevant trade conferences and seminars, what kind of impact is this having on organisations’ effectiveness when it comes to digital marketing and social media marketing more specifically?
With increasing pressure on marketing departments to demonstrate a return on investment (ROI) in all of their activities, this lack of training could prove to be problematic. While learning on the job is of course useful, and perhaps even necessary, is it really sufficient?
Additional figures in the Digital Distress Report suggest that it could be contributing to a lack of confidence among both marketing "generalists" and digital marketers, with less than 50% claiming that they feel highly proficient in digital marketing. Further, only 33% would categorise their companies as highly proficient.
As a result, there appears to be increasing demand for companies offering focused digital marketing and social media marketing courses, as professionals become keener to train, but also to gain official certification of their skills in order to distinguish themselves from the competition. In a context where informal train-as-you-work activities have always been the norm, what better way to stand out and enhance your career prospects?
Though the digital landscape is destined to continue to evolve, meaning that the content in any given course may only be valid for so long before a new trend takes over, my personal feeling is that the issue of confidence is a big one. It is hard to feel truly proficient when all you have to go on is experience, and when you lack confidence you are less likely to take steps and risks that could really end up paying off. Even if the ideas are already there, you may be a little hesitant to put them into practice, afraid that your instincts are wrong and that whatever you had in mind could turn into a huge flop. Taking a course to certify your skills can therefore give you the little push you need to refine your ideas and, perhaps more imprtantly, to actually take the leap and try something new. There is no guaranteeing you will succeed, but at least you'll have the satisfaction of having tried, right?
If it is true that years of financial uncertainty have made private businesses reluctant to invest in recruiting and developing talent – with trends just recently beginning to highlight a reversal of the situation – how has the public sector been affected in recent years? More importantly, what consequences will this have for the public sector reforms that have been laid out for the years ahead?
The results of a recent survey conducted by totaljobs.com and Dods Research paints a grim picture, with over half of the central government, local government and health sector workers surveyed suggesting that skills shortages will prevent public sector reforms from being carried out effectively. Perhaps more worryingly, 45% of the 1,619 public sector staff who responded believe that the workforce does not have the skills it needs to continue to deliver public services effectively, a figure that rises to 60% when considering the healthcare sector alone. Overall, the skills found to be most lacking were leadership and IT skills, including the technical expertise needed to support service delivery and the ‘digital by default’ agenda, as well as those required to run in-house digital solutions.
Commenting on the findings, public sector director at totaljobs.com Mike Fetters said: "The past three years have been a tumultuous time for those in the public sector, with huge cuts and reforms by Whitehall affecting everyone in local government, central government and the NHS. While there have been huge achievements, those in the public sector are clearly worried about their ability to continue to deliver services given skills shortages and staffing gaps. Many of the skills needed are those most associated with the private sector."
And indeed, 43% of the senior central government figures surveyed suggested that the public sector will need to recruit externally in order to bolster talent and bring in the specialist and vocational skills needed for the future.
Not an easy challenge by any means, especially when considering the much broader gap between supply and demand in IT skills, with millions of jobs due to be created across the UK while the number of students aiming (and training) towards those jobs continues to fall rapidly. Nevertheless, it is one that will need to be tackled if the public sector is to deliver the reforms that have been set out, balancing the need to maintain a skilled and diverse workforce with continuing pressure to reduce headcounts and redeploy staff in new roles.
The issue of inequality between men and women when it comes to pay is one we are all familiar with. With clear roots in the broader historical disparities that have gradually been addressed over time, it is one that now lies at the forefront of discussions about the need to guarantee equal working conditions for individuals performing the same professional roles, regardless of whether they are male or female.
So where does the UK currently stand?
According to an extensive report compiled by the Department for Media, Culture and Sport – the Secondary Analysis of the Gender Pay Gap – the good news is that, between 1997 and 2013, the gender pay gap closed for every age group excluding the over 60. On the flip side, it has actually increased by 0.1% from 2012, due largely to the fact that there continue to be very significant discrepancies in:
Combined, these two facts have contributed to keeping the median pay gap at 19.7%, particularly as a result of the fact that part-time positions continue to be plagued by worse pay and career prospects.
For the under 40s the situation is "equalising", with a gap of between 3.5% and 5.3%, while the 40-49 age bracket continues to see an average gap of 26.7%. In terms of sectors, the traditionally male-dominated skilled trades (plumbers, electricians) continue to record gaps of up to 30%, while trades including sales, customer service and care guarantee the greatest levels of parity for women. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the pay gap was also shown to be most severe at manager and director level, at 20.2%.
And where to from here? Perhaps companies need to do more when it comes to recruitment, but also in terms of career and skill development, ensuring that women are given the same opportunities to progress as men. In this area, the issue of training is certain to be a relevant one. And it does not necessarily need to be in the form of an extensive programme such as an MBA, though there is indeed a case to be made for the utility of such programmes in propelling women to top leadership positions. Even short-term management qualifications and non-accredited programmes can contribute to providing women with the skills to advance as managers and leaders and, perhaps more importantly, to develop the confidence to see themselves as leaders.
In one of the most extensive studies of its kind, the Deloitte Human Capital Trends 2014 Survey conducted in the last quarter of 2013 asked 2,532 HR leaders and businesses from across the globe to indicate their talent and HR management priorities for the year ahead. The ultimate goal was to compare different issues in terms not just of their perceived urgency, but also in terms of organisations' readiness to successfully tackle and respond to the trends.
The findings show that the four issues considered to be most pressing include (in order of urgency):
At the same time, the respondents reported generally low levels of readiness when it came to tackling these issues, with an average 36% describing themselves as "not ready" versus 16% claiming their company was "ready" across all parameters.
When plotted against each other, the figures show that companies are having to address "capability gaps" on virtually all HR-related fronts, that is: a gap between urgency (how important an issue is) and readiness (the ability to deal with that issue effectively). Of the 12 overall global trends, leadership was once again identified as having the most pronounced capability gap, with a very high perceived urgency and low corresponding levels of readiness, suggesting that it is a primary area on which to focus investment in the future.
Other key findings include:
Six months after taking office, David Cameron expressed the need to "take practical steps to make sure government is properly focused on quality of life as well as economic growth".
Though some time has passed, a Cabinet Office report released last week has now taken some practical steps to compiling a sort of profession-based 'happiness index' or 'job satisfaction calculator' designed specifically for jobseekers (re)approaching the labour market. In what may come as a surprise to some, the results show that vicars and priests are the UK’s happiest workers while publicans are the unhappiest of all, closely followed by bricklayers and debt collectors.
Perhaps the key finding of the survey is that, while there is certainly a link between earnings and satisfaction levels, it is not always the case that a higher salary leads to greater satisfaction. For example, farmers earn considerably less than quantity surveyors (£24,500 vs. £39,000 per year), but are the 8th happiest workers where the latter are the 41st most miserable (out of a total 274 categories). In fact, an even clearer trend regards working outdoors, with farmers, farmworkers and managers in agriculture & horticulture all ranking in the top 25.
So how will this knowledge make people happier? Well, according to the Government, it can help jobseekers who are undecided between two career paths decide which is the best option based on the balance between the salary and life-satisfaction associated with each. The idea is that some will opt for the greater salary, while others will interpret average satisfaction as a more important factor. The interesting issue here, though, is cause and effect: do certain jobs make people unhappy, or are unhappy people more drawn to choose certain jobs (bar staff, telesales workers, rent collectors to name a few)? In this sense, it will always be the case that some publicans are cheerful and some clergymen are miserable.
But the results do provide food for thought, with some occupations generally considered highly stressful – including dentists, midwives and many jobs in education – reporting higher than average levels of satisfaction. Perhaps unlike the finding that undertakers are generally not the happiest of employees, this data could prove highly relevant in the career choices made by those looking to enter the job market. The big question is: will anyone want to do an unsatisfying job? Despite the caveats mentioned above, many may (quite rightly) be put off by low average satisfaction levels. But, if all goes as hoped, the outcome may well be a greater balance across the professions based on individual attitudes to the importance of job happiness vis-à-vis earnings.
Either that or a lot of very empty pubs!
With the Government’s focus on Apprenticeships continuing to grow, it is no surprise that they are increasingly becoming the object of debate and (in many cases) criticism regarding not only their content and value, but also their costs.
In particular, following yesterday’s presentation of the Government’s budget for 2014 and its provisions regarding the future of apprenticeship funding, concerns have emerged from a number of different sources about the effectiveness of the methods proposed. In the first instance, the National Council for Continuing Adult Education (NIACE) expressed disappointment at the lack of sufficient mention of methods for increasing adult skills more broadly, particularly when taking the findings of the recently published UKCES Employer Survey into account. While welcoming the increase in funding for the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers scheme, which grants eligible employers with fewer than 1,000 employees up to £1,500 for each new 16-24 year old apprentice they take on, they suggested a corresponding lack of focus on post-24 apprenticeships. More specifically, the £20million pledged to sponsor degree and masters level apprenticeships over the next 2 years was described as “modest”, particularly considering the significant interest that both employers and providers were described as having shown for these kinds of initiatives.
On another front, the CEO of AELP (Association of Employment and Learning Providers) Stewart Segal was critical of continuing Government plans to modify the funding system in a way that would see the burden of claiming funds shift from training providers to employers. The proposals would see the introduction of so-called apprenticeship "credits" and a shared bank account into which the employer pays their contribution, before receiving a top-up from the Government and using the total amount to fund the apprenticeship. He suggests that, despite some changes introduced in response to the initial waves of criticism, the system remains excessively complex and thus likely to put off employers rather than (as intended) increase the number looking to take on apprentices. What the system needs, he argues, is increased flexibility and choice to cater to as many businesses as possible and thus ensure that the goal of seeing more apprenticeships being offered is effectively reached.
What will the labour market look like in 2030?
In an extensive piece of research published earlier this month, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) attempted to find four possible answers to this question by conducting an in-depth analysis of the trends and disruptions likely to shape the future of jobs and skills in the UK.
According to the study, entitled The Future of Work, the UK workforce in 2030 is destined to be "multi-generational, older, more international and female". In particular, the effects of an ageing population will lead to the creation of so-called 4G (four-generation) offices, where staff in their 70s and 80s are working alongside employees in their 20s. At the same time, technology is likely to be pervasive across virtually all sectors, leading to a situation in which professionals in areas such as legal work and accountancy can be replaced with computer algorithms. In conjunction with this, the increasing flexibility demanded of employees will mean that individuals need to shoulder more responsibility for their own skills development, with a focus on personal resilience and agility, as well as core business skills and self-management.
The above is likely to be true in any of the four scenarios identified, despite differences in their precise characteristics. In the Business-as-usual (BAU) scenario, incremental innovation and greater business flexibility will lead to modest economic growth, but also fewer job opportunities leading to fierce competition and low levels of security for the lower-skilled. The other three scenarios, developed as the more likely (but by no means only) alternatives to this situation in response to a number of potential disruptions, include:
The Great Divide – in spite of strong growth propelled by high-tech industries, a two-tiered society emerges in which the gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ is reinforced.
Skills Activism – rapid technological innovation fuels the automation of white-collar work, leading to large-scale job losses and the need for an extensive government-led skills programme.
Innovation Adaptation – a stagnant economy leads to the rigorous implementation of ICT solutions to enhance productivity.
The ultimate goal of this exercise is not to predict the future, but rather to kick-start an important conversation about the development of the UK labour market that will affect employers, employees, policy makers and education providers alike. More importantly, it is only by thinking about the challenges and opportunities ahead that we can hope to pinpoint the behaviours and skills that we should be investing in today.
A recent ruling from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has established that excluding female employees on maternity leave from training programmes amounts to discrimination.
The case of Loredana Napoli v Ministero della Giustizia - Dipartimento dell'Amministrazione penitenziaria, originated in Italy when on 5th December Ms. Napoli – who had become deputy commissioner in the Italian prison service in 2009 – was admitted to a training course due to start on 28th December 2011. After giving birth on 7th December, she was however placed on compulsory maternity leave for 3 months in accordance with national legislation, and informed in January that she would be excluded from the course once the first 30 days of her maternity leave had elapsed.
The decision to exclude her from the training was taken pursuant to Italian regulations and Ms. Napoli was notified that she would be enrolled in the next course organised.
So why the big fuss?
Well, the regional Italian tribunal to which the case was originally brought asked the European Court of Justice to consider whether the European directive on the equal treatment of men and women in fact precludes national legislation that excludes women on compulsory maternity leave from vocational training courses. And, in the judgement delivered on 6thMarch, the ECJ observed that the "less favourable of a woman related to pregnancy or maternity leave" does indeed constitute unfavourable treatment that violates EU law.
But why was her treatment considered less favourable? She was, after all, allowed to return to her previous status as deputy commissioner and guaranteed a place on the following course, without being in any way demoted. But the key issue here is the fact that the course, as a result of being provided in the context of her employment relationship, constituted part of her "working conditions". Consequently, the fact that she was excluded from the vocational training, which prevented her from being promoted alongside her colleagues, was determined to have had a negative impact on her working conditions and prevented her from benefiting from the same improvement of working conditions as her colleagues. Because EU law states that women, at the end of their maternity leave, should return to their jobs in no less favourable working conditions than when they left, the court thus ruled that Ms. Napoli’s exclusion from the training course constituted discrimination on grounds of sex.
The Court suggested that organisations in similar situations can address such situations by providing parallel remedial courses that allow returning mothers to “to be admitted within the prescribed period to the examination and thereby to be promoted, without delay, to a higher grade.”
We’ve all heard that vocational qualifications are high on the Government’s priority list when it comes to education and professional development. And amidst news that UK graduates are under-using their skills, while employers are not finding the skills they need among UK workers, the focus on vocational programmes (and apprenticeships in particular for the younger generations) is only set to increase.
But is pole dancing instruction a vocation that is really in high demand these days? Well no, perhaps not.
As a result, Skills and Enterprise Minister Matthew Hancock announced earlier this week – in the context of a wider plan for the reform of vocational qualifications commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills – that funding is set to be cut for 5,000 qualifications considered to be of "low value". The reckoning is that, while we may all enjoy a nice aerial balloon display or need a bit of self-tanning from time to time, these are not the kinds of skills that will help employers grow their businesses or enhance the competitiveness of the country as a whole.
"Small qualifications in coaching angling, aerial balloon displays and self-tanning are not a good use of taxpayers' money or learners' time. There are currently 15,400 regulated qualifications, and even with the restrictions we have made so far, 11,000 of them are eligible for government funding.
We are determined to make sure that people who work hard to achieve a qualification can be sure that it is recognised as meaningful and valuable to employers and that it makes a real contribution to our long term economic plan for Britain."
The move is expected to free up roughly £200m of the adult skills budget that can then be redirected towards qualifications that are more responsive to employers’ needs and provide clearer routes to a career or further training.
At the same time, the National Institute for Continuing Adult Education (NIACE) has warned that, while this is an important endeavour, it is equally important to ensure that valuable "re-entry points" (however trivial they may seem to outsiders) are not cut off for individuals with little or negative experiences of learning who can find these qualifications a more manageable way of returning to education.
What do you think? Is the government right to cut funding for these qualifications, despite their potentially important role for those who are trying to return to learning? Vote in our poll on the right-hand side of this page!
Despite the many arguments to the contrary, there are still employers who live in fear that training their staff – by virtue of making them more employable and attractive to competitors – will only lead them to take their talent elsewhere.
It is an age-old conundrum, and not one that is easily resolved, but a new study commissioned by Skillsoft has provided individuals on this side of the debate with more food for thought, revealing that 64% of the 1,001 office workers surveyed are motivated to take training in order to be better at their current job – not to get a new one. A further 61% suggested that their desire to train was primarily geared towards developing skills for internal purposes.
Though becoming more employable was also found to be a strongly motivating factor, particularly among younger employees (66%), it is also true that a majority of them (76%) planned to stay in their current jobs for at least another 2 years.
Commenting on the results, EMEA General Manager Kevin Young suggested that: "It’s natural for employers to have concerns about investing heavily in training programmes when staff might use that training for their own advantage, just to leave and get a pay rise at another company. Our research suggests that people are actually motivated and encouraged by training and repay that investment back to their employers."
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