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The duality of hats: A pracademic perspective

The duality of hats - A pracademic perspective

At a recent IMM Graduate School forum, SEAN McCOY facilitated the Marketing the Future sessions as master of ceremonies, channelling an exciting line-up of speakers on the subject of “unlocking the human element in the digital era”. It was here that the topic of the “pracademic” arose.

While used fairly informally, the term ‘pracademic’ triggered some interesting discussions and prompted this article to offer a perspective on what is meant by the description and how it applies to higher learning and the world of work, relevant to both marketing and the business sector generally.

During the forum, I introduced myself as a “pracademic”. It seemed like an apt description for a moderator who straddled the IMM as the host organisation and Nedbank as the sponsor. The intent was to blend the perspectives of a learning institution with those of a leading financial services brand and full-service bank.

This duality of hats, so to speak, was examined through the perspective of either filter to assess whether they were really far apart in a changing business landscape, and how we could ensure they remain integrated while addressing the challenges facing us today in academia and business holistically.

Through the eyes of an academic

From an academic dimension, the fundamental requirement in the broader marketing and business context is to teach students and prepare them for the world of work. This sounds simple but is more challenging as we delve into the detail.

The world of work is changing and evolving. With the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) and the 4th industrial revolution (4IR), higher education has to embrace change. This has impacted on curriculum content and relevance as well as channels of content delivery. It has even redefined and reinvented their understanding of the job market – how do you equip students to enter the workplace and take on jobs that are not clear or even known yet?

This latter point talks to the sentiment from some employers that students entering the world of work are ill-equipped and not remotely ready for what the new environment requires of them. This naturally leads to a dearth of talent for organisations and also immense frustration and disillusionment for students. Workplace change has translated directly into disruptive educational models challenging conventional modes and institutions. A case in point is Udemy, a platform brand offering a marketplace connecting instructors and students looking to improve specific skills.

This is hyper-focused content, based on direct and immediate workplace needs, and offers true affordability. That it is disruptive is evidenced by leading organisations such as VW, Booking.com and Adidas enrolling employees as part of their skills development and learning process, in some cases with module specific learning pitched at a minimal fee of the equivalent of R100.

Another example of dramatic shifts in curricula is the Italian online university, eCampus that recently launched a three-year programme to earn a degree in social media influencing, an industry that is today reported to be worth $2.4 billion and something that simply did not exist a few years ago. Change is indeed the only constant.

Higher learning disruption notwithstanding, the academic still has a vital role to play in teaching critical thinking, helping students to apply learned theoretical principles and driving discourse that challenges the way we see the world while seeking new paradigms and solutions. The rigour of research should not be forgotten either – after all, this plays an essential role in advancing theory, not just for the benefit of academics, but if correctly applied, as has been the case in the past, enables quantum advances in thinking that has implications for practitioners too.

Thankfully, the IMM Graduate School is a dynamic and challenging institution that does look at the higher education model constantly and evaluate new ways of doing things. It interacts regularly with industry players through advisory channels and workshops and it places great emphasis on practical learning and ensuring fit-for-purpose students well equipped for the workplace who can adjust and deliver at the requisite pace.

The teaching faculty, by and large, are pracademics by implication and this ensures that programme content delivers a balance of cognitive skill and variety, while being fact-based, driving critical evaluation and ensuring sound problem-solving skills, all crucial criteria for the world of work.

 Through the lens of a practitioner

The practitioner perspective is, of course, entirely grounded in the reality of business and what it takes to implement strategies daily, whether they be greater business strategies or tactical marketing ones. This often proposes one of the biggest disconnects between the world of academia and that of business – the capacity to translate theory into commercial action and successful implementation.

As much as higher learning is undergoing disruption and digital transformation, the world of business has experienced this with break-neck speed and impact. The disruptive case studies of Netflix, Uber and Airbnb are already old and represent the norm today. Whole industry segments are being eroded or disintermediated and most organisations are grappling with what AI and 4IR mean to their businesses.

Increased complexity and ambiguity Platform brands are emerging in many industry sectors and are simply redefining business models and the way whole industries work. This has implications for businesspeople and marketers alike. As we saw during the Marketing the Future discussion, this is driving a number of changes which include increased complexity and ambiguity in this world of redefined connectivity, borderlessness and new interdependencies as well as a shift in consumer and customer power through the increased capacity to demand experiences and switch market sentiment at the press of a button.

This challenges a purpose-led brand such as Nedbank, which aspires to use its money expertise to do good and is dynamic in the category of financial services. The intensified competition in the South African market through challenger brands like Capitec in the retail segment or new players like TymeBank, mean that standing still is not an option.

The likes of Discovery Bank and their innovative behavioural business model will likely perpetuate the competition and force a plethora of new initiatives in the category. Then there are the newer fintech players and propositions that supplement traditional competitors.

Leveraging insight to solve simulation and practical learning

Case study learning has become a vital dimension of equipping students today and the practitioner is able to leverage this insight and ensure that real problem-solving simulation and practical learning does take place. Well executed, this individual straddles both educational and industry requirements as a pracademic.

Sector-specific exposure can be amplified across markets. For example, taking our involvement as HKLM in the Nedbank brand, we supplement category insight and learning in markets such as Ethiopia, having rebranded the Bank of Abyssinia in 2018 and several banks and financial services organisations in West Africa over the years, most notably in Nigeria.

This brings rich experience and pan-African perspective to the unique challenges of our continent. Of course, these also traverse other industry sectors and play out in the likes of telecommunications, mining, hospitality, higher education and professional services, to name a few. The ability of the practitioner to share these learnings with students and research scholars is invaluable.

A fusion of the two

Cycling these insights and perspectives between academia and practice is the domain of the pracademic. An individual who can understand the development needs of higher education and the dreams and aspirations of students’ intent on growing and taking up their rightful place in business, is critical to economic growth and future business leadership development.

So, too, is an individual who understands the needs and pressures of the business world and its dire demand for talent that can help build sustainable business and competitive advantage. The reality of business is not at odds with academia. The challenge that exists is that there needs to be greater interaction and collaboration between the two to ensure that higher education remains fit for purpose and industry has the talent pool available to drive growth and economic prosperity for all – an imperative in South Africa and across the continent. Welcome to another newly defined role – the pracademic.

A critical skills shortage in digital marketing could mean job opportunities for 2020 school leavers

A critical skills shortage in digital marketing could mean job opportunities for 2020 school leavers

Why School Leavers will battle to find a job 

As the class of 2019 are released into the big wide world of work, many parents are holding their breath, hoping that by some miracle their school leaver finds employment and start a successful career. Sadly, according to an unemployment report released by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), youth’s (15 to 24) are far less likely to find a job or to be absorbed in the job market than those that are older. There is a general belief that total lack of experience counts against them and firms would rather employ older people who have more work experience. It is therefore not surprising that the youth unemployment rate in South Africa rose significantly to 58.2 percent in the third quarter of 2019, reaching its highest level since the first quarter of 2008.

A critical skills shortage in digital marketing could mean job opportunities for 2020 school leavers B

Dalein van Zyl, CEO of IMM Graduate School says, “with this pressure on parents and households, the obvious next step is to look to tertiary education to solve the problem. Unfortunately, only 33.6% of candidates (2018), who wrote the NSC examinations received a bachelor pass and were eligible for studies at higher education institutions. In addition, unless the programme of study is highly practical in nature, jobs are still hard to come by. The industry wants graduates that are job-ready.” 

It is critically important for parents of school leavers to identify where the biggest skills gaps are and then get their school leavers upskilled (with experience) in one of these areas as quickly as possible.

The world has gone digital

The world as we know it is changing, with one common element driving everything – digital transformation! Businesses can no longer ignore the fact that digital technology is the key to future success and therefore are constantly on the lookout for people that have a talent and skills in digital technology.

Parents should therefore be looking at careers for their school leavers that involve some sort of digital technology if they want them to even be considered for future employment, globally. One of the fastest growing industries in the world today is digital marketing – the science of knowing where to find customers online, how to develop a relationship with them and how to communicate with them in a meaningful, efficient and effective manner. For a while now those in the digital marketing industry have taken note of an escalating skills shortage. Digital marketing skillsets are in high demand, but ultimately in short supply.

There has never been a better time for school leavers to develop a digital marketing skillset

In a recent global survey published by The Economist Group, research from across nine countries highlights an alarming shortage of critical skills and talent within the digital marketing space. Interviews with more than five hundred international marketing executives, reveals that 74% of marketing executives believe their industry faces a critical talent shortage of digital marketing experience and soft skills needed to meet customers’ increasing demands. Areas of ‘customer experience’, ‘strategy and planning / brand management’ and ‘data and analytics’ were identified as crucial to an organisations’ success and business performance. The survey further points out that many of these marketers will need to place a strong emphasis on recruitment, meaning they are on the lookout for new, young talent with verifiable skills. According to the report, securing talent with the right skill set is the most cited challenge faced by marketers today.

“There has never been a better time for school leavers to develop a digital marketing skillset. That’s why we set out to understand what skills are required for entry into this industry and developed a 12 month skills focused course that could both address the skills gap and solve (to some extent) the unemployment issues that school leavers are facing,” added van Zyl.

Practical skills valued over credentials

One of the challenges in the industry it seems is that digital marketers tend to be too specialised and there is a need for candidates to have a broader understanding of the digital marketing landscape and overarching strategies. “Furthermore, 60% of digital marketing executives we surveyed indicated that they did not care whether or not a candidate had a three year degree and were happy to accept someone with a Diploma, Higher Certificate or even an online short course, as long as they had the skills to do the job,” adds van Zyl.

Successful candidates are chosen for their ability and understanding of basic design and content creation, this means having practical skills such as copywriting and blogging abilities, knowledge of research techniques such as keyword research, blog topic research, social monitoring and clickstream analysis and an understanding of top of funnel versus bottom of funnel strategy and tactics. The need gets even broader where candidates need an understanding of marketing fundamentals and useable knowledge in SEO, segmentation and targeting, various testing strategies, reporting and analysis using online tools such as google analytics. The marriage of creativity and analytical thinking is central in today’s landscape of digital marketing.

“After assessing the feedback received from industry it became apparent that we had to develop youths with generalist skills and that their specialisation would happen later – through on-the-job training – or more formal education channels.

With this understanding in hand we proceeded to develop what we believe to be the best and most relevant 12-month certificate course in Applied Digital Marketing”, added van Zyl.

Equipping school leavers with practical digital marketing skills.

This course is an online blended learning course with interactive content, webinars, gamification and one-on-one coaching with industry experts. The intention of this course is to provide students with knowledge and then get them to apply the knowledge in order to develop specific skills that are aligned to industry requirements. All of this culminates into a hands-on, skills-based portfolio whereby students can showcase their ‘experience’ to the industry, hence improving their chances of employment. While this course has been designed to specific industry requirements for minimum entry as a junior digital marketer, it’s also ideal for those already in the industry wanting to broaden their knowledge and future-proof their careers.

Included are eight learning blocks and one overarching portfolio project where students will

  • build and manage social media business pages on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube,
  • design and create content for social media using online tools,
  • apply basic writing skills for online copy and blogging
  • apply online research techniques including keyword research, blog topic research, social monitoring and clickstream analysis
  • develop a good understanding of how to plan and implement SEO strategies and create content for search ranking purposes,
  • gain skills in building reports and interpreting data from google analytics and other social media insights tools,
  • build a basic website using Wix,
  • Learn how to navigate the backend of a WordPress site,
  • utilise online tools in the Google Suite such as Gmail, Google Drive and Google Docs,
  • use Mailchimp to create email campaigns,
  • leverage tools like Grammarly to typo proof copy,
  • understand and use HubSpot as an online CRM tool,
  • use tools such as Hootsuite or Buffer as a social media management tool.
  • understand the in’s and out’s of PPC (pay-per-click) advertising,
  • know how to use tools like Google Ads and Wordstream.

Portfolio of evidence

“This course won’t just leave students with an impressive paragraph on their CV, it will also give them an extensive portfolio of evidence demonstrating their new digital marketing skills,” ends van Zyl.

Interested candidates can get a more detailed breakdown of this course here. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the IMM Graduate School on 0861 466 476.