Digital Fail: The gaping void in digital training is failing our industry

In this guest post, Amnesia Razorfish’s Iain McDonald warns that the industry has fallen badly behind on digital training.

Before I get accused of trolling with that headline, I’ll state what I think is obvious: The current education system isn’t producing or nurturing enough ‘digitally skilled’ individuals to sustain a growing a digital economy.  

The landscape is shifting faster than the industry itself can train new people or re-educate existing staff. “Learn as you go” has become the norm for many which is especially evident in social media circles. It’s an issue that is going to get worse because digital growth and pace of change is still accelerating.

I doubt there is an agency in town who hasn’t struggled at times to find genuinely experienced digital staff, especially in niche disciplines like search and analytics. Look deeper and you’ll find digital staff wondering where their next training session is coming from.

At Amnesia Razorfish we’re no exception to the issues in finding great staff. Our own solution to finding people becomes evident by listening to the wildly varying accents in our office: Yes a substantial portion of our talent has been imported. This is not by design but all too often we simply have no option to look beyond local shores. This is not to say there’s not incredible Australian talent here, it’s just that there’s simply not enough of it to go around.

It is not uncommon for businesses to plug the gap with ‘less qualified candidates’ in digital positions with the hope that they will step up to the challenge and learn the job as they go. There’s nothing wrong with that if it works but on the flipside it can be highly unpleasant for both employee and employer if it doesn’t. There is certainly emphasis on the employer to provide external training and education if they are not resourced as a business to give it internally.

The billion dollar question:

With the NBN coming (depending on who gets elected), digital economy booming, rise of mobile, gaming, social and amazing new consumer technology on the horizon driving further adoption… Who will do the educating at grass roots and how do existing employees get ‘re-educated’?

I don’t want to knock anyone here who is currently involved in digital training in Aus – they are doing the best they can with what is provided.

Australia has some excellent short digital courses eg: AdSchool and many world class digital mentors like Heather Albrecht and Jenny Williams.

Unfortunately short courses are not enough and the industry lacks anything close to having a mature full time breeding ground for digital talent that is affordable and scalable. The unis are starting to integrate greater elements of digital in their courses but at the moment they feel more like ‘digital snacks’ than the ‘all you can eat buffet’ training we need that caters directly to our industry.

Sweden is home to one of the world’s first and most respected ‘digital only’ educational institutes; ‘Hyper Island’ which also offers a two year university course.

The trigger for me writing this article is that they are coming to Australia in September for a three day masterclass. (It’s not a cheap three days)

I have directly employed several Hyper Island graduates over the last few years and the quality of output has been exceptional. Listening to people who have trained there and explain how the school works, how hard it is to get a place, the detail and length of the courses it becomes easy to see that we don’t have anything quite like it at the moment.

Unfortunately I think there has been a lack of vision with regards to this within recent Governments –whilst all parties seem to realise the digital economy is important, the physical cabling is only part of the infrastructure we need to be on top of the world – we also need a digital workforce. It should be noted that the Swedish government helped fund the Hyper Island setup.

I’m jealous of Sweden’s Hyper Island. I think we need one (or something like it) in Australia as soon as possible.


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