Digital marketers from some of London’s most exciting businesses gathered at the WhiteHat offices last week, to share insights on apprenticeships and the digital skills gap over coffee and croissants. In addition to discussing the challenges presented to businesses by the shifting digital landscape, we heard about some of our apprentices’ and employers’ experiences, as well as the practicalities of bringing a digital marketing apprentice in to an agency or brand setting.

Ryan Wain — CMO at The Unlimited Group — shared some of the moments when apprentices’ fresh insights have injected life in to pitches traditionally dominated by the Male, Pale, and Stale perspective, helping marketers ensure their campaigns are a reflection of modern Britain, and that diversity in agencies is more than just a hashtag. Highlighting the apprentice’s view, Marina Sabin of The Unlimited Group, relayed how she “loved the opportunity to learn from seasoned professionals”, whilst working on proposals for perception-changing businesses like the RAF and Prison Radio offered her the chance to directly apply the skills gained in her qualification.

Below you can find some of the key takeaways from the panel and discussion that followed!

APPRENTICESHIPS AND THE CHANGING DIGITAL LANDSCAPE

  • Digital marketing is unrecognisable compared to what it was 5 years ago: while the principles of insight and human understanding remain at its core, the ways in which media is consumed have changed immensely.
  • Further to that, there is a real culture of continuous, driving change in digital marketing platforms — software services release early and release often, meaning platforms often don’t look the same as they did even just 6 months ago.
  • New platforms are being developed all the time, and digital-native apprentices are generally some of the first to identify which can have the most impact.
  • An apprentice can also offer the millennial or Gen Z perspective that’s crucial to creating an effective digital campaign. “We’ve grown up with social media, so the digital world is embedded in us,” said Joe, an apprentice at Spectrecom. “We’re the target audience, so it’s easier for us to contact young people. At the same time we’re also learning from seasoned professionals, who are imparting their experience. With an apprentice, businesses can cover all bases.”.
  • “Companies are really just a collection of individuals that are working towards a common purpose — we need to ensure that those people are from different and diverse backgrounds,” said Ryan Wain, CMO of the Unlimited Group.
A recent study undertaken by Trinity Mirror Group found a real disconnect between ‘adland’ professionals and middle income Brits. “It found that ad workers and marketers value risk-taking and strong emotions, and wrongly assume that mainstream audiences are motivated by messages of hedonism and power, when really they value benevolence and universalism. Adland is also more likely than mainstream society to think an individual has responsibility for their own adverse life circumstances, such as a low income or job loss.Despite these values, 48% of advertising professionals self-identify as “left wing” compared to 28% of people from the ‘modern mainstream’ (the middle 50% in household income, with annual earnings of between £20,000-£55,000). The research highlights the homogeneity of an overwhelmingly metropolitan-based sector in which 92% of workers voted Remain in the European Union referendum, 84% are under-40 (compared to 35% of UK adults) and a degree is an entry-level requirement.” (quoted from The Drum, 05/05/18).

SKILLS OF A SUCCESSFUL DIGITAL MARKETING APPRENTICE

  • A successful digital marketer still needs those functional skills: Maths so that they can competently analyse data; and English language for that all-important communication aspect of the role. Other than that, all they really need is the right mindset — a natural curiosity that means they automatically take a ‘so what?’ approach when presented with data, insights or performance results.
  • A 16 or 17 year old apprentice may not have all of the necessary skills yet, so it’s important that they’re encouraged to upskill, using resources like Google Garage.
  • The 20% off-the-job learning that forms part of an apprenticeship is crucial to the apprentice’s professional and personal development. On a WhiteHat apprenticeship, part of the 20% is fulfilled on bootcamps with General Assembly. Of the experience, Marina said, “I learnt how to use social media in a different way, how to use Google analytics, learnt how to code, and how to measure the results of a campaign. We also learnt about more traditional marketing methods, and how to make a brand more appealing to an older generation. The bootcamp week really built up my confidence, and I felt prepared for the unknown.”.
  • Whilst many companies make all the right noises about staff training and development, apprentices can often be the only employees who really have that learning built into their role. It’s an incredible opportunity to upskill young talent and mold them into the dream ‘T-shaped’ marketeers that all companies need — “I really want a coach!” said Ryan Wain, CMO at the Unlimited Group.
  • It comes down to deciding “Who do we want to be in ten years time?” The talent we’re bringing in the door now is our future leadership.
Marina and some of her fellow DM apprentices hard at work at the General Assembly bootcamp

PRACTICALITIES AND CHALLENGES OF BRINGING ON A DM APPRENTICE

  • It’s crucial to set realistic expectations within the business about apprentices: they’re loyal and hungry to learn, but may need a bit more support than a regular full-time employee to get up and running. The solution is to be clear, nip any issues in the bud with regular check-ins and articulate challenges and what’s expected of apprentices clearly.
  • You have to make sure that there’s a real role in your organisation for an apprentice — if you’re bringing one on purely to fulfil a CSR function, it’s not going to work out.
  • The most time-consuming part can be making sure the rest of the business is onboard. Once you’ve got the foundation that comes with having apprenticeship champions in the business, it becomes quicker and easier to recruit the best talent out there. It can be really powerful to act quickly once you’ve made that first hire, to capitalise on the momentum you have around enthusiasm for an apprenticeship scheme.

If you’re interested in bringing onboard a Digital Marketing apprentice to your team, why not drop us a line at info@whitehat.org.uk.