Tag Archives: digital media

The Digital Skills Summit – brokering skills between digital companies, students, and universities

I couldn’t attend the Digital Skills Summit delivered by Manchester Digital and Manchester Knowledge Capital last week. This was a shame: going by the #mcrdig hashtag on Twitter and chatting to a couple of delegates, a lot of the topics discussed are close to my heart at the moment:

  • A Skills Broker for the digital sector in Manchester or “The North” was discussed. This gets its own set of bullet points below, you lucky sods.
  • MMU’s David Bird stressed the importance of paid internships for students in the digital sector. This makes total sense. Employers are expecting students and recent graduates to be business-ready and entrepreneurial, on top of being technically skilled designers, coders, online marketers and so on. Their expectation to get paid should be part and parcel of this.
  • CPD for established digital professionals was a thorny issue, with some dissatisfaction being expressed at the quality of what’s on offer in the region – though it’s unclear if this was aimed at the private sector, the support agencies, or the universities, or all of the above. A tough one, this, and easy to get bogged down in if you lump all these different parts of the skills supply chain into one. I’ve touched on this topic in a previous post, asking  what price should be paid for digital sector training. Price has an immediate impact on quality and I’m concerned that there hasn’t really been a broad enough, meaningful discussion on the quality of training that might be offered to one industry in, by global standards, a pretty small area.

So, this skills broker idea was mentioned – and I wouldn’t blame Manchester Digital for wanting to position themselves for it, though I’m unclear on what’s holding them back. It’s a really good idea: universities and businesses could be doing a lot more together, and not just work-based training, if the relationships were right. A third party with a good overview of wants and needs on both sides could do some real good, and would provide a consistent stage to get top-tier thought leaders in technology, design and training in the 21st century speaking and teaching in the region, without stepping on the toes of Northern Digitals, Econsultancy, or anyone else.

Would a membership-based trade body be the one able to do this? I’d say they’d need to match up against the following attributes:

  • Autonomous: they would have to have strong partnerships with HE and industry, but would have to work to its own agenda and have a crystal clear, realistic mission statement. Those two groups are effectively clients, but not necessarily the users: they’re the students, graduates and CPD customers, and if the mix of influence is off-balance their interests could easily be forgotten.
  • Knowledgeable about training, and training as a harsh, competitive arena, as much as they might be about digital. One without the other won’t do.
  • Nimble and responsive: waiting on committees, steering groups and stakeholder meetings for permission on projects and products they’re not able to assess in detail will just slow things down, and rarely affect the outcome. There are things that could be started literally right now, with no real barriers.
  • Open-minded and accessible: the new waves of talent can come from anywhere and there is no archetype of success in such a frequently disrupted industry. This must be visible as more than a lip-service equal opportunities policy.

How you’d fund something like this is tricky, and may only be solved by being as iterative in the approach from the outset as possible, making a virtue out of trial and error. I’d suggest something small, lean and mean which wouldn’t need a physical base to get going: once I’d improved my know-how, I found a decent laptop, phone, connectivity and transport to be the main capital resources whether we’re talking about placements, online training or training events. Constitution-wise I’d be wary of creating a co-op for the reasons above, although the relatively new CIC model may work well in this instance. It may not even be a full-time job for one person to begin with. Revenue-wise I’d say a pay-as-you go system would enable that essential speed, flexibility and JFDI factor. Contracts and SLAs would be a secondary concern, and not a barrier to getting started.

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i.studio plus – training for future web and digital managers. But which price is right?

One thing I perceived from the i.studio traineeship project was a broader lack of business awareness and skills amongst the talent entering the web industry. Some readers who see me as a public sector quango muppet may scoff at my making this observation…

This was more true of those coming from a design or development background – there are one or two universities in the region, such as MMU Business School, that are much more on the ball in teaching digital marketing and ecommerce within their business degrees.

Tying this together with the original i.studio research and spending an hour or two with our tame web and interactive freelancers I put a mindmap together:

Picture of the mindmap produced for i.studio plus

(Click for full-size)

Man, I love a mindmap – my tool of choice is always Freemind. On the left were practical constraints (I’ve removed the node with budgetary info as that would be bad karma), on the right structured notes on content, style of delivery and so on. Lovely curving links where topics are related. If you’re interested in seeing how I bodge together training solutions, click on the image for the full-size map.

In brief, the skills thought to be critical were a full understanding of digital as a business, financial awareness, building the right team for the job, project management, and a big one: pitching skills. At this point the bulk of the work was passed on to a subcontractor, The White Room, who were able to source relevant training providers with relative ease, and had the right experience to satisfy what I’d outlined in terms of style and credibility. (I didn’t just email this over to them, mind, the usual mind-numbing procurement processes were followed). To build on the i.studio brand, i.studio plus (or i.studio+) was born. I insisted on this name. I think The White Room hated it…

Pricing benefited from public subsidy, and cost around £350 per delegate. This price was still a stumbling block when it came to getting businesses involved, even though it offered a massive discount on the real cost, especially when compared to other providers nationally or in the region. To The White Room’s credit, however, they achieved full subscription and uniformly positive feedback for the training sessions. Interestingly, they had to hit the phones to really get the sell-in, and I ended up warming some contacts up by phone as well – I still wonder what part of the marketing was obscured by overall perceptions of Vision+Media, and what might have more to do with the need to sell training pretty hard. My conclusion, despite this: businesses really have no idea how much training should cost. This was more reflective of a broad creative sector too used to subsidy meaning free – and too many organisations and bodies keen to do this to demonstrate support, when in fact they were undermining the sector by preventing it from truly understanding return on investment in training.  My big worry is that the LEPs will rush in to the current void do the same again, and miss the complexities in fostering a strong non-academic training infrastructure for such a fussy sector as creative and digital.

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Set the dials to “miffed”

Warning: a bit of a whine/rant. Buckle up!

I’m note really sure how annoyed I should be: in short, I’d pitched to project manage a careers and entrepreneurship day to be held during an animation and games festival in Stoke-on-Trent. It fitted in quite well with the 4-day week I’m currently on, and was well within my comfort zone knowledge and skills-wise. Moreover, I’m keen to see a high calibre of event take place in my back yard, an area often overlooked by national and regional bodies.

Instead, it transpires that Skillset, the sector skills council for the creative and digital industries, offered to do a careers day for free. After I’d put in my pitch. Bit of a no-brainer there from the Council’s point of view. However it takes 2 weeks to find this out. I ask my contact at the council if they can tell me who they’ve spoken to at Skillset – perhaps I can offer my services. It takes a further 2 weeks of pestering to find out that no, they can’t, because the council employee who spoke to them is on holiday, and didn’t pass on any details.

So I ring Skillset myself and finally track them down: they weren’t interested in any help. They have been asked to do an animation careers day as far as they’re concerned (not what’s required – the rest of the festival covers this in spades) and will be bringing some South East based animation, post and CGI bods up on the train, probably tell everyone in attendance that you need to move to London to train and work there, hop back on the train, job done. They’ll all be excellent examples of what they do in animation, FX, motion graphics, asset creation and so  on, and probably of global standing – but the tone and design of the solution, will be completely off the mark.

On reflection I am very annoyed – mostly at myself, and I’ll just put it down to experience. But the outcome is I’ve had an opportunity disappear due to a far inferior alternative being offered for free (and often free things end up having no value), and it took an unreasonably long time to be updated on this. Maybe the comments thread will chuck up similar, or I  hope, different experiences.

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