Member blog: Capital Communication

Abbie Clement, Head of Content, iubenda

In this article, Abbie Clement, Head of Content at iubenda, takes a look at the findings of the recently published Human Capital in the Digital Environment report and touches upon an issue that might not immediately come to mind when considering the root causes of the digital talent shortage: communication.

The European digital advertising market has doubled in size in 5 years, with digital being the largest advertising medium in Europe and ad spend totaling over 48Bn in the last year. However, despite major investment and visibility, IAB Europe’s recent Report on Human Capital in the Digital Environment indicates that the industry is suffering a shortage of skilled human resources and faced with a difficult recruitment process.

The major contributing factors being (according to respondents of the survey) that the lack of technically skilled applicants, abundance of underqualified specialists and the inability of candidates to properly self-assess lead to an imbalance between demand and availability of appropriately skilled candidates. This, in turn, leads to inflated salary expectations of applicants, even where they are underskilled.

Simply put, the current pool of candidates, by and large, are not providing what employers in the industry need. Another issue indicated by the report that’s worth noting here is a lack of investment in ongoing training and skill development of active staff.

Now, if we take a step back and look at the issue, it becomes apparent that there is, in fact, one core problem — communication. Odd, considering that the industry is built around the principle of not just communicating, but communicating effectively. In fact, it almost seems counterintuitive that a lack of communication would be at the root of internal issues. Whether this is due to a historically competitive nature of the industry, a consequence of rapid and exponential growth in the digital age or something else remains up for debate, but the fact remains that a lack of effective communication across occupational lines within the industry provides for an environment where candidates are unclear on what skills are truly required and how to measure those skills, and employers are tasked with valuing said skills in relation to what’s available rather than what’s actually needed.

Effective communication, of course, can be achieved in various ways, however,  it is my opinion that the method most conducive to solving the current issues would be to create a unified voice by standardizing qualifications.

One way to do this would be to implement a standard training and certification programme.

Such a programme would allow employers and the industry at large to communicate clearly what is actually required in no uncertain terms. One advantage here is that while certification may set a base standard for technical requirements, it still leaves room for employers to factor in relevant soft-skills and personality traits when making a hiring decision. This is particularly relevant as a major issue highlighted in the recent report is the fact that candidates rated soft-skills such as patience and organizational abilities above technical skills — distinctly misaligned with employer expectations, which placed technical skills as most important with soft skills coming in second.

Another benefit of this approach is that standardizing base qualifications raises the overall quality of the recruitment pool. Though such an approach may appear to reduce the size of an already limited pool, the principles of basic targeting apply here in that the candidates that make the effort to meet requirements can be assumed to be truly interested in the role and technically knowledgeable, which should, in turn, result in a more efficient recruitment process and less time and resources wasted. Specialization also becomes easier to recruit for as it can be more clearly defined.

Lastly, the standardization of qualifications would also assist employers in fairly and appropriately valuing the roles that they’re recruiting for. Candidates would have a realistic idea of what’s required and the industry can set a base standard for what that is worth. This is additionally and particularly relevant in an industry as dynamic as digital advertising in that standard qualifications would also make it easier to evaluate current employee performance, identify where organizational output is lacking in relation to industry standards, and to better identify where follow-up training is needed.

One related point highlighted in the HCitDE Report is that, according to some recruiters surveyed, the wages in other sectors exceeded those that the digital industry could offer, resulting in fewer available qualified candidates.  Standardizing addresses this issue in that a high-quality candidate pool is more likely to result in a positive return on investment for each resource acquired from that pool. This better empowers employers to offer remuneration packages that can more effectively compete with other industries.

Standardized certification (and the implied related vocational training) allow us to indicate expectations while providing the opportunity and means for interested candidates to meet them. This approach allows for more direct and effective communication between the industry and its human capital.

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