By Ciaran Jarosz
Having attended a number of events and talks on the importance of digital marketing and social media infrastructure, most recently including networking days led by Santander, it has become increasingly evident that the modern SME remains stuck in a position of:
A) Recognising the importance of digital marketing and social media as a way to communicate with a core audience, often free of charge (or at least with free options available for those businesses with the know-how).
B) Being uncertain as to how they can effectively tap into this resource, especially in cases where they may have little experience with neither professional nor personal use of social media beyond casual use – this proving something of an impairment in self-delivery as well as sourcing the right candidate.
An ever-evolving series of platforms, social media represents an increasingly prominent method through which the modern business can communicate with both the customer of today and that of tomorrow. Yet, be this the case or not, the majority of SMEs yet remain unsure how best to utilise social media in a commercially incentivised way. Why? Because the commercialisation of social media requires an intrinsic understanding of modern technologies (commonly associated with millennials and graduates) and business acumen (then commonly associated with older, time-served professionals).
Training remains the most obvious solution to this complex problem, yet the greatest concern remains in the delivery of effective and professional training which can aptly tap into the core skillset of the millennial, yet also delivering business-relevant social media training which can translate into commercial success. Indeed, this remains something increasingly difficult for businesses to deliver on, often having neither the capacity for comprehensive in-house training of this nature or (as is the root of the original problem) being unable to deliver an eclectic mix of social media and business training simultaneously.
Yet also, as previously highlighted, concerns also seep into the candidate selection process. For organisations already struggling to wrap their head around digital marketing and social media, it can prove an overly complex issue to source a candidate able to deliver on that very same agenda; this also drawing further worries and perhaps also bad experiences associated with selecting candidates able to “talk the talk”, but not “walk the walk”, so to speak.
This is where the importance of educational schemes such as apprenticeships truly come into the fore. By providing businesses access to a pool of millennials which can receive targeted on-the-job training, coupled with specialist social media and, or, market training, businesses are able to mould technology-adept and personality-strong candidates into the perfect driver of their digital marketing and social media agenda – this often being completed in a period of between 6 months and a year, depending on the training provider. But how much credibility do apprenticeship schemes have for such a targeted purpose?
Admittedly, many apprenticeship schemes, especially those delivered by your run-of-the-mill provider, are still rather new to offering digital marketing and social media training. Though schemes have been, and are still being developed on that note, the only-recent widespread recognition of social media as a core tool for digital marketing (to increase sales primarily1) leaves businesses in a position where there are far less tried-and-tested apprenticeship schemes for delivering training of this nature as opposed to more traditional courses: business administration, business development, and accounting, for example.
Looking at how and where businesses can source an effective scheme to suit their needs, there are seemingly two core options. Firstly, and perhaps the most widely recognised method at present, organisations can secure governmental funding and support to deliver apprenticeship training with colleges and like-training schemes, whereby candidates are traditionally offered NVQ-level qualifications and a relatively minute stipend to meet legal requirement. This has proven effective for some businesses, and across many disciplines, is perhaps also the most easily accessible method to bring new blood into the company.
Increasingly, however, widespread understanding of the importance of social media, as well as the commonplace importance placed upon degrees, as opposed to NVQs with younger generations, has led to a scenario whereby the youths of today is far less reciprocal on the topic of apprenticeship schemes. Indeed, coupled with the relatively low pay of traditional apprenticeships2, this is no-doubt emphasised yet further and, consequently, many candidates with the drive and ambition to succeed in business may opt-out of such schemes with bigger and brighter ideas of their own, perceiving such courses as only for the desperate or uneducated3.
Also remaining the case is that much of the training delivered on this basis (or at least from what we’ve seen thus far), remains in its infancy on the topic of digital infrastructure and, as such, business confidence in such schemes has hit something of an all-time-low since the “glory days” of apprenticeships, and the nostalgia that follows4; yet, we can also understand the reasoning here – why risk letting a reckless youth loose on your increasingly important social media platform of which you also may have relatively few controls over?
It is, however, important to recognise that these traditional apprenticeships are far from the only apprenticeship schemes available on the market. Indeed, specialist schemes have been established for equally specialist business ambitions and associated roles – social media and its use for digital marketing numbering in amongst those. But how do these schemes differ on both fronts?
In the case of such specialist training, it is, firstly, and perhaps most importantly, the case that training delivered as part of such apprenticeships is targeted to a specific business need – social media training in this case. As is intrinsic to specialist training, this ensures that the skills being developed are those instantly translatable and relevant to business goals, thus providing more support in ensuring the success of the candidate in meeting social media targets; we live in a world where business targets remain more apparent and integral than ever before, after all.
Also the case is that individuals on these courses are traditionally required to receive a far more “fair” level of pay for time and effort invested into the task, as has been highlighted in studies pairing roles with varying levels of pay for the same role56. Whilst, at first glance, this may be translated as a negative to most SMEs, sociological theory offers a different result worth consideration. In the offering of a more traditionally acceptable level of pay to candidates (still often coming in at not far beyond the minimum wage), the pool of candidates also, in turn, expands considerably as interest levels rise – indeed, interest expanding most considerably amongst those with more considerable drive, ambitions and talent; low levels of pay, understandably being more of an attraction to those in desperate positions than those with the ability to succeed. Though this is not to say that high pay intrinsically translates into better results, with theories suggesting quite the opposite in some scenarios7 and industries.
Whilst the costs may indeed be higher, this form of apprenticeship offers more controls and tools to ensure the success of the scheme and, in turn, the success of the candidate within the apprenticeship-hosting organisation. It’s a case of getting out what you put in, and with this moderate (but not considerable) increase in investment to ensure the proper delivery of translatable and appropriate skills, organisations are able to rest assured on the vastly improved margins for success in the short and long term.
For those interested in learning more, a scheme of this very nature, which may serve as a case-study for like-schemes is that of The Juice Academy which, as testament to the company’s good name, has a great track record for delivering training for apprentices in the digital sector8, whilst also simultaneously supporting businesses in finding new talent to spearhead their digital efforts. Can we guarantee results? Of course not, but if you’ve read this far then we might suggest taking a closer look at schemes such as this.
We may not be one organisation, but the success of Britain, as a nation, is dependent upon the skills which we instil in the next generation; this especially being the case with the predicted effects of Brexit on the jobs market and apprenticeships alike9. It is for this very reason that we are proud supporters of apprenticeship and like-training schemes and would naturally encourage other like-minded businesses to pursue a similar approach to recruitment – let’s enrich the recruitment pool for one, and for all.