The Digital Talent GapJuly 27th, 2012
Patrick Rona, president of Tribal DDB Asia Pacific, weighs in on the short supply and consequently very high demand of digital talent in Asia Pacific. This article was first published by CampaignAsia where we contribute content.
Talent: tal•ent [noun]
1. A special natural ability or aptitude: a talent for drawing (… or design… or strategic thinking… or user experience architecture).
2. A capacity for achievement or success; ability: young people of talent.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the word ‘talent’ lately. Before moving to Asia, the digital ‘talent gap’ was the most frequently cited issue that people told me I’d face here. And true enough, since moving here, the lack of people with the specific set of digital skills that I was used to in Europe has been palpable. ‘Digital strategists’ (is it really a unique skill?), ‘project managers’, ‘creative technologists’, ‘user experience architects’ are all in very short supply and consequently very high demand. Like most of you, I’m sure, we simply can’t find enough of this ‘talent’.
But the more I travel around the region – both for work and pleasure – the more I see ‘talent’ (as defined in a classical way) is virtually everywhere I go. Artists, designers, technologists, business people – from street vendors to CEOs – there is certainly no shortage of ‘talent’ across the region. In fact, within the ‘digital’ space, the number of young entrepreneurs launching exciting new businesses across the region is phenomenal. (Read about just a handful of these here http://www.techinasia.com/asia-startups).
And, this got me thinking… how has ‘talent’ been nurtured over the years as new industries and markets emerge? Being a structural engineer, a textile designer, a manufacturing manager – any job for that matter is not intuitive. We are not born with this skill. Instead, we are channeled, molded and nurtured to develop. Skills and natural talent needs to be honed. Olympic athletes are proof of this. Just think about the amount of hours that goes into being a success. It’s true that practice makes perfect,
So then, why aren’t we more aggressively tapping into the vast pool of people with ability and molding our own talent?
To me, the core of the problem lies with us as an industry. From where I sit, there are a few specific issues we need to address:
First of all – as with every other period when the ‘old’ way competed with the ‘new’ way of thinking and approaching a challenge – we are still dominated by people who have been very successful in the ‘old’ marketing communications world. In this world, a product is developed (with little consumer involvement or insight, I might add); then, consumer demand is built by broadcasting the amazing and life transforming virtues of that product while simultaneously building distribution; then, if successful the orders and the money starts rolling in. Then new competitors enter the fray, at which point the product is ‘promoted’ ie the price is slashed and then, a new product is developed and the cycle starts again.
As many of us know, this model has been turned upside down in the digital age. Consumers actively tell companies what products they want – even if it’s a re-make of an old product. In fact in the UK, Whispa chocolate bar was re-introduced when customers led a social media petition. Instead of broadcasted messages, demand is generated by word-of-mouth; distribution is built online. Finally, the product is never really ‘promoted’ because the consumer already knows the price (both yours and your competitors!)
We need to seek out managers who can combine relevant experience, a passionate curiosity about how things work, and a desire to explore and apply new models and ways of working.
The second problem, quite frankly, is that in a world where we religiously focus on the top and bottom line of a P&L statement, training – i.e. nurturing and growing talent – is often one of the first ‘cost’ lines to get cu – ironic since our Product is our People. Lack of talent is often cited – correctly – as one of the primary barriers to growth. Yet, as an industry, we still aren’t investing enough money and time into growing talent.
I think that by a) being more curious about our ever-changing marketing communications landscape with a willingness to change the way we approach the challenges and opportunities inherent within it; and b) committing to growing our own talent, we can rapidly bridge the digital talent gap. Some agencies are committed (every Tribal DDB office has to invest a significant amount of money to training), but as an industry we definitely aren’t doing enough.
With a concerted effort to hone skills, we might just convince a few more of these aforementioned young entrepreneurs to join and stay with us.
Just a thought.