Digital and social media skills gap can be addressed by learning while you work

Our recent Digital PR and Communications Report told us - as if we didn't know already - that the growth of digital comms as a budgetary concern for brands is not only expected, but happening now.

Mind the skills gap in digital and social, writes Francis Ingham
Mind the skills gap in digital and social, writes Francis Ingham

The report revealed that in-house digital budgets rose by nine per cent over the past year, and are expected to grow further over the next 12 months.

It is also clear that PR and comms agencies are responding to this need by successfully diversifying and moving beyond traditional PR roles. The PR Census 2016 showed that digital and social media as a role has increased most in importance in our industry over the past three years – from 60 per cent of respondents describing it as a main duty in 2013, to 75 per cent in 2016.

The skills we need are changing – to survive we need to adapt. However, we have not seen a corresponding rise in investment in training and development. Fifty-three per cent of agency professionals said they require more digital and social-media training. The leading sources of digital skills are expert blogs (64 per cent), which are free to use and not time-consuming. Only 35 per cent of agencies and 36 per cent of in-house teams use external courses as their main source of digital training.

All too often, the industry grabs its learning where it can. That’s not surprising – we’re working, on average, 10 hours of overtime a week. There is also an increasing appetite for flexible working, with 28 per cent of the industry adopting flexitime and 24 per cent working from home one day a week.

So our industry needs a flexible, learn-while-you-work, way to build skills, or it won’t succeed. Our training offering must be dynamic and flexible to equip PR professionals with the right skills in a convenient manner.

We need continuous professional development (CPD), which the PRCA is launching as a free service for the industry. CPD is the process by which practitioners build skills and deepen knowledge in a structured way of continuously reviewing competencies; seeking out best practice; acquiring new tools, techniques and theories; and sharing knowledge.

It addresses the gap in high-quality training which is effective, but, more importantly, is flexible due to its easy-to-use online platform.

PRCA CPD recognises a huge range of formal and informal development activities. The former include training courses; qualifications; conferences; lectures and seminars; e-learning courses; events; mentoring and coaching. The latter include reading books, articles or blogs; preparing award entries; revising for exams; carrying out research; webinars and podcasts.

Our industry can no longer continue to offer professional development that is not appropriate for this digital age and the flexible way we work and live. If we are serious about investing in training and equipping our professionals with the right skills to make the industry more resilient, it is crucial to embrace opportunities such as CPD.

If you would like to know more, please get in touch with me at francis.ingham@prca.org.uk.

Francis Ingham is PRCA director-general and ICCO executive director

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