From education to employment

Developing the digital skills for today’s employers

I was at a training event some weeks ago and I heard that a colleague’s son had recently graduated with a marketing degree, but that he had very little knowledge of digital marketing. I was shocked and asked how this could be, but apparently digital marketing was not covered; still more evidence that young people are leaving education lacking the skills that are required by employers.

Not only are the employers lacking the digital skills they need in their workforce, but also our unemployed learners are frequently being disadvantaged by not learning the digital skills to find employment. It is said that 97% of recruiters are using LinkedIn for recruitment, and 49% of recruiters are using Twitter, but are those seeking employment being trained how to effectively use LinkedIn and Twitter to seek employment? In general I would say ‘no’.

In a session on digital employability skills I delivered recently a show of hands revealed that in a room of around 30 people, despite it being said that 4 out of 5 UK professionals are on LinkedIn, under 5 training professionals were engaging in any way with the social media platform, and even fewer introduced it to their unemployed learners. I’m sure we would all agree that employers require employees in any role to have good organisational skills, self-discipline, show initiative, be able to work in a team and have good English and maths skills. When we look at how employees carry out these skills in the workplace yes they are probably using email, word processing, spread sheets and searching the internet, skills that are regularly taught in employability programmes, but they are also likely to use much broader skills. Businesses today are using social media in a variety of ways, online task organisers and meeting schedulers, online collaboration tools, web conferencing, communicate using VOIP software and use mobile devices. Are these skills being taught?

A growing number of businesses are moving towards a paperless system and using cloud technology. For example, sales people are using mobile devices to submit orders out on client sites, customer relationship management software is being updated on trains, minutes of meetings are recorded and uploaded to an online system for sharing, staff in dispersed offices are keeping in contact using voice and video over the internet with tools such as Skype and Google Hangouts, and company documents are accessible anywhere and at any time. I don’t believe we are adequately preparing our young people to enter this world of work.

Businesses are embracing the power of technology to help their companies grow. There is now a wealth of evidence that tells us that social media is becoming highly influential in the world of work, so it’s not surprising that most customers’ first contact with a brand is online. However, employees can also do a lot of damage to an employer’s brand online and so it is vital that they understand their social media responsibilities from a workplace perspective.

We often hear the term digital natives, but a digital native is not going to demonstrate the digital employability skills that make them attractive to an employer. Yes, employers want people who are confident in their use of technology, but the skills they require in the workplace are not the same as socialising using Facebook, texting friends or searching the internet for new pair of trainers. Training providers should harness these skills and develop them into digital employability skills appropriate for the 2013 employer. However, for this to happen, training professionals will need to develop their own skills first.

Carolyn Lewis is a training consultant and managing director of and Vocational Innovation Ltd

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