The dawn and rise of the Datarati has been noted by many thought leaders in recent times. Indeed, there is no longer any doubt that the management, analysis and application of insight-driven decision making is crucial to businesses wishing to compete – and even survive – today.
Yet, having worked in direct marketing across key industry sectors for the last 20 years, it has become increasingly apparent to me that UK plc has a growing problem. In short, despite the universally-acknowledged importance of data, there are simply not enough new marketing analysts entering the UK market place. Just to be clear, I mean those who are trained in statistical analysis and its application for marketing and credit-related decision making.
Throughout my career, working for top marketing solution suppliers and blue chip companies all over the world, I have invariably been responsible for major recruitment programmes to build (and then provide on-going development of) world-class analytical departments. And believe me – despite the prediction from Google’s Hal Varian that the sexiest job in the next 10 years will be the statistician – our schools and Universities are not producing enough new entrants.
My current focus on recruitment, combined with recent discussions with a number of established recruitment companies, has reinforced a key suspicion. Namely, that those few talented young data specialists that we are producing either migrate abroad for more lucrative opportunities or opt to forgo medium to long-term career and skills development, in order to gain higher short-term rewards through contracting.
The attractions of the contracting route are obvious. But we are failing to explain to those who succumb to the temptation that contracting will ultimately limit their long-term career development. Data services are viewed as a rich source for recruitment precisely because the UK leads the world in the development and application of sophisticated marketing analytics. Yet those engaged in contract positions will not be trained sufficiently to support this reputation and will, eventually, lose out on the really big career opportunities.
The combined results are easy to predict, even for those without any statistical or econometric qualification - this shortage in supply and the ever-increasing demand for analysts will lead to increasing costs and increasing difficulty for organisations to retain key staff and maintain business as usual. The exponential growth in data-based decisions - essential in today’s multi-channel, high data volume world - will become a significant financial and operational issue.
So how do we ensure that the next generation of analysts is sufficiently talented and plentiful to meet this expected demand? There is, of course, scope for the Government and educational establishments to offer better careers advice and reduced course fees. But in reality it is incumbent on us in the marketing industry to raise awareness and even help market the profession to the bright young people whom we want, and need, to bring on board.
At Billington Cartmell, we have made a conscious decision to address this problem. We are already known for our Next Generation programme and the on-going development of graduates within our BCL Academy, focusing on account management and creative professionals. As a new recruit to the agency myself, I am now involved in the extension of both these initiatives to include marketing analytics. We will work with Universities and recognised industry bodies to sponsor projects and students during their study, offer work placement and early employment opportunities to boost awareness, support and development of the profession.
New blood and new ideas are essential for every industry. Appropriately in an Olympic year, we need to develop and support the next generation who will carry forward the analytics torch for the UK.