May 17, 2022

Digital Marketing Jobs: How Universities & Colleges Can Prepare Students

Written by Clodagh O’Brien

Search engine optimization, return on investment, cost-per-click, and conversion rate are common terms used and understood by marketers. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the knowledge required in a marketing role. 

The need to be digitally transformed has accelerated across industries - even more so since Covid-19 forced companies to direct marketing activities online. What this means is that organizations need marketing graduates with digital skills that can drive brand awareness, generate leads and grow revenue. 

The problem is many graduates are leaving universities and colleges without the digital skills companies require. Nearly 80% of employers believe that current graduates do not arrive fully equipped with the skills they need to be work-ready according to ‘Work Ready Graduates: Building employability skills for a hybrid world’

In this blog, we look at 7 ways universities and colleges can make their marketing graduates more employable and address the digital skills shortage.  

What are today’s students looking for?

After spending time and money studying for a qualification, marketing graduates want to leave academia with skills that are useful in the job market. They want to be able to apply for a job and have confidence they will get an interview - or even better - land the job!

Unfortunately, that’s not the case for many. The world of work can be daunting and the marketing sector has rapidly evolved to include specializations such as paid search, content marketing, social media marketing, and data analytics amongst others.  

What students want from the higher education sector is a focus on skills that will make them more employable and invest in activities that benefit their future. 

Cengage’s ’Graduate Employability’ report revealed that 66 percent of graduates want more real-world experience and believe colleges should prioritize:

  • Experiential learning and access to online learning and certification programs
  • School-sponsored internships
  • Mentorships and introduction to local business leaders

Today’s marketers not only need more advanced digital skills than other graduates but are expected to have them. In addition to real-world experience, marketing students want:

“68% of students in the UK don’t understand what skills are needed to start their career while 50% are unsure of how to search for a specific job” Microsoft & LinkedIn’s report ’Degree + Digital’

What skills do today’s employers need from graduates?

Businesses need work-ready and socially skilled marketing graduates who can use current technologies. Analysis by Marketing Week found that there’s a steep rise in demand for marketers with skills in social media, ecommerce, and data analytics. 

While WeForum predicts that by 2025 the most sought-after skills will be analytical thinking, creativity, and flexibility and the top emerging professions include data and artificial intelligence, content creation, and cloud computing. 

World Economic Forum Top Skills 2025
World Economic Forum Top Skills 2025

The demand for digital know-how amongst marketers is only going to get more intense. Customers are getting pickier and more demanding, wanting content and messaging that is personalized and relevant. This will mean an increase in automation, improvement in user experience, and customer service through AI-led technology. 

So how can universities and colleges create work-ready marketing graduates? And what are the solutions to the challenges they face? 

What challenges do educators face?

Just 28% of business leaders believe the education system offers adequate digital training according to Microsoft’s report, ‘Unlocking the UK’s Potential with Digital Skills’

In the United States, an ITIF report found that the situation is even worse with one-third of workers lacking digital skills, 13 percent having no digital skills, and 18 percent having limited digital skills. 

So what challenges do higher education institutions face when it comes to offering digital marketing skills?

1) Outdated marketing curriculum -. Many colleges and universities do not update curricula annually or even every two years making content out-of-date. In many cases, digital marketing is not included at all. 

In a study of undergraduate programs reported in the Journal of Marketing, the authors reported: 

“We find that a persistently large proportion of schools have no course offerings that explicitly address digital marketing or marketing analytics. This is deeply concerning, as it suggests that accredited business schools of all sizes, including some larger programs, are failing to train marketing students for the realities of the business world and likely exacerbating the digital skills gap.

2) Finding the right teaching talent - There can often be a skills gap amongst university/training teams in digital marketing which makes it difficult to teach up-to-date digital marketing knowledge to students. 

3) Knowing what employers want - There can be a mismatch between what employers want from a graduate and what a university or college believes they want. 

4) Time limitations - Resources can be limited in higher education and it takes time to create or update course content. Often there are not the resources available to do this. 

5) Difficulties in cross-collaboration - It can often be a challenge to create a cohesive plan across the institution and get relevant departments and functions on the same page. 

6) Speed of change - Digital technologies and platforms move at a fast pace and change constantly which means that it can be difficult to keep up-to-date and reflect that in the curriculum and teaching.  

With all these challenges to contend with, colleges and universities need help to provide digital skills to students. Let’s look at how this can be done.  

How can educators help students succeed in the workplace?

Universities and colleges are in a unique position. They are a link between graduates and employers and have an opportunity to align skills with job market needs

Here are 7 effective ways educators can help students succeed in the workplace:

1) Offer work-integrated learning - This new approach will help higher education institutions offer workplace learning as part of the courses. Arizona State University launched a pilot program using the platform Riipen to embed short-term projects into their curriculum that provide industry experience with employers. 

2) Provide a third-party credential with up-to-date digital content - If creating or updating course content on your marketing curriculum is a challenge, partner with a recognized third-party certification body that supports universities and colleges with industry-validated content

3) Train staff in digital skills - Upskill university or college staff in the area of digital marketing so they understand the industry and can use the knowledge to help students

4) Get accreditation for your digital marketing program - Offering an external accreditation recognized by the industry will help bolster your offering but also benefit graduates when job seeking.  

Learn about DMI's University Partnership Program 

5) Partner with local companies/brands - This will allow you to make links with local industry but also offer real-world knowledge and experience to students through internships or work placements. 

6) Get creative with your teaching methods - Integrate digital technologies into the classroom such as gamification or experiential learning.

7) Respond to changes in the marketplace - Create additional resources that you add to the curriculum that can be created to supplement courses.

“37 percent of Americans expressed interest in skills training and 25 percent expressed an interest in non-degree credentials” Strada research

What’s the future for digital marketing in education?

There are challenges to ensuring marketing graduates have employable skills and are work-ready. However, universities and colleges are in the driving seat to bridge the gap between the skills employers and students need. 

The key is to create content for your marketing program that’s relevant and up-to-date. Integrating real-world experiences through case studies and experiential learning will help to give students valuable knowledge and employable skills. 

While mentorships, links with local industry, and work-integrated learning can offer valuable hands-on digital marketing experience that many graduates currently lack. 

Above all, consider offering digital marketing courses as part of your marketing program. This approach will not only offer fresh and industry-aligned content but adds value that can boost enrollments and increase student employability.  

“The DMI certification is a signal to an employer as to why someone should hire you. Not only for the knowledge the certification brings but I can see something through and complete it. Those are signals that are important and that’s what the industry is looking for.” - Professor & CMO Stephen Marshall, East Tennessee State University Research Corporation

Learn more about DMI's University Partnership Program

Clodagh O’Brien
Clodagh O’Brien

Clodagh O'Brien is a content creator and strategist. Over the last 12 years, she has created and managed content for many SMEs and global brands. She's passionate about digital marketing and the impact of technology on culture and society. You can find her on Twitter or LinkedIn.  

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