Rise of the machines: Digital Store’s Louise Lawton on digital recruitment

For the most part, recruiters serve as the link between the skills employers want and the capabilities employees have. At its simplest, this implies that a clearly defined role necessitates an employee with a very specific skil lset. However, when it comes to digital roles, specificity is exactly what’s absent. These roles are constantly evolving, meaning that employers sometimes don’t even know exactly what they should be looking for. And to overcome this problem, the Digital Store founder and consultant Louise Lawton believes that agencies should turn to recruiters who specialise in digital recruitment.            

StopPress: The term ‘digital skills’ seems very amorphous. What does this term even imply? Has it been defined properly in the industry? Is there a need to better define it?

Louise Lawton: ‘Digital’ is here, in every role. Whether you are using it as a tool, or actively part of managing, designing or developing ‘digital’. The definition ‘digital’ will change with each role it is defined to. As we progress and roles become more specialised, definitions will tighten up across the board. At the moment, the growth in this area is phenomenal, and developers for example are having to up-skill quickly to keep up with market demand and ever-changing and advancing coding trends – therefore their digital skill set to some extent is amorphous.

SP: How much has the demand for digital skills increased in recent years? In which roles is this most pronounced? 

LL: It has been building steadily since the commencement, however rapidly since 2002. The past five years have especially seen a surge in the majority of agency roles requiring ‘digital skills’. The demand for front- and back-end developers from both agency and client side especially so. There is just not enough talented skilled candidates in the market to keep up with the demand. Clients are now asking for graphic designers with web/app/social design skills, account manager are expected to be able to deliver the fundamentals of digital producing, and traditional print production managers to manage digital delivery.  

SP: There has been a lot of talk about digital charlatans in the industry. Have you noticed this? How do you differentiate a charlatan from someone who knows what he/she is doing?

LL: Oh yes, there are many. They are especially prevalent on the design and development side. Unsuspecting companies, marketing managers and so forth see a website of someone offering their skills, or they will put a job up on a self-managing contractor / freelancer site. They will see websites or apps that look great, just what they are looking for—and engage the applicant for a project. What they don’t know is the developer could just be learning as they go. They may have just learnt a few skills on Lynda.com and then try to applie this to your project. And this usually ends in hack coding, non-functioning sites and crashing CMS systems.  What I see a lot of is companies paying up to $10,000 for a website, when all the designer or developer has done is bought a $50 wordpress site, reskinned it, added some PHP plug-ins and charged you an extortionate amount for it. I think what it comes down to is talk: ask questions;  call up specialists; talk to recruiters like us at The Digital Store for advice; ask to see who their other clients are and the work they did for them; and do your reference checks. Also, ask business associates, and don’t be worried you might look stupid asking questions – people are only too happy to help. Just make sure you talk to the right people.

SP: Either anecdotally or statistically, do you know of any instances of people being let go/made redundant because of a lack of digital skills? 

LL: Yes, this does happen. Companies ‘restructure’ to allow removal of unskilled staff. Some staff you can up-skill, because they have the logic and can adapt quickly. Others just can’t, won’t or simply don’t get it. I see this happen the most when—usually developers—have been with a company for a while. They are stuck in a cycle using older coding techniques, and usually on a salary that is now way too high for their current market skill set. They are made redundant and get replaced by young guns, who are bright, fast, and half the price.

What I also hear from clients who come to us looking for new staff is that they have just gone through the experience of employing someone directly who had an inflated CV and skil lset (and if you don’t implicitly know the functions of the role you are employing them for how are you to know they don’t know what they say they do) – and of course the truth always comes when they can’t perform, and you have to do damage control, thus usually resulting in redundancy.
SP: What types of skills should ad/media employers be looking for? 

LL: The main ‘skill’ if you can call it that is someone with the logical and creative blend of skills. Astute and articulate. They pick up the digital nuances so quickly and run with it – and this invaluable. This is an inherent quality that can’t be taught. If they are a developer, they should also have this quality. Those who are always intrigued with new coding techniques are likely to spend their spare time up-skilling and learning new code, because it’s fun.
SP: Are there any skills that you see as imperative for job seekers to have these days?

LL: In the digital space, strong communications skills are a must – a solid overview of social media and digital marketing (this applies for all digital roles) – we like to see candidates who have websites, blogs, go to meet-ups, actively living a digital life.

SP: Any other thoughts on this topic?   

LL: It’s such an exciting growth area, and every changing. If you don’t feel you understand ‘digital’ – get online and take time to watch webinars, Ted talks, be part of Twitter – just being a part of it, being noisy and exploring will help it all make sense to you.

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