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Econsultancy recently launched the UK's first university accredited Digital Certificates, which focus on strengthening digital marketing skills for those looking to begin or develop their careers in this industry.
Academic accreditation is provided by Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) and courses currently available include analytics, SEO, and social commerce.
I've been speaking to Vivien Underwood, our Head of Professional Development, about the certificates...
Why do you think these Digital Certificates are needed?
First of all, we received a lot of requests from our members, so we knew there was a demand out there.
As this space matures, there's a need to support ever more junior levels, and provide training to those looking to hone their craft after they've worked in the industry for a number of years, as well as those just starting out.
While there is no substitute for experience, having a frame of reference against which to establish professional standards is extremely powerful, both for the individual and recruiters.
How has the industry responded to the Digital Certificates?
There's still a certain amount of circumspection around formal digital marketing qualifications in industry, and for specific skillsets, I think anything that claims to teach in the classroom is seen as fair game.
We did suffer a bit of a backlash on Twitter about the idea of making someone an expert in SEO within six months, but that's not our claim.
Our Digital Certificates aim to make candidates confident practitioners with real world experience within six months. The certificates are there to create a 'learning space' within which people can practice, share experiences, seek guidance and gain confidence with access to an expert and away from commercial pressures.
We actively encourage real world application either through business or personal projects, so we are very keen not to divorce the learning from the real world.
Despite this, however, we have received a lot of interest. Analytics starts in May with ten delegates from organisations such as AXA, Sportingbet, RS Components, Department of Work and Pensions and the Cooperative Group.
The Digital Certificate in SEO is due to start in June, with five places already taken and well over 60 people currently considering application. The certificates are the first UK accredited qualifications to address such specific digital skillsets, and there's always work to do to gain momentum, but the response has been very positive and interest is growing steadily.
The reputation for delivering robust and relevant qualifications gained by our MSc courses also provides a great foundation for confidence in the certificates.
What was the importance of the accreditation with MMU?
Accrediting a qualification requires the creation of a robust framework of knowledge and skills against which recognised levels of competence can be assessed.
As the digital industry matures and core best practice is established, organisations are increasingly looking for ways to make confident hiring decisions.
Individuals with an accredited qualification stand out from the crowd and come with concrete evidence of their skills and knowledge, but organisations can also use the qualification framework as their own reference for unqualified applicants, so they can ask questions or test knowledge based on the content of a recognised award.
Accredited qualifications are a required element of professionalisation, and we've certainly seen the MSc courses gain significant recognition as valuable awards.
Graduate certificates provide an ideal stepping stone for those who have perhaps studied an unrelated subject at undergraduate level and are now looking to prove their credentials for a career in digital, or those wishing to switch industry after some experience.
The new award level also helps to create a cohesive learning journey for those wishing to be seen as professionals in the digital marketing field.
Who has signed up to the courses to date?
Although the certificates are well designed for those coming from unrelated disciplines, as expected, we have initially attracted an industry audience.
Job titles including e-commerce marketing manager, internal comms manager, digital campaign manager, events marketing assistant and community manager.
In general we find applicants have around two years' digital experience. Applicants for SEO come from LV=, Holidays 4 Travel, Wilson Cooke and a freelancer so far. Most are coming from general junior roles and people looking to specialise.
How do these fit in to digital career development?
Digital careers tend to follow this idea of 'T'-shaped people, with new entrants to industry displaying a broad and shallow knowledge or all areas of digital, before specialising in order to take on specific management responsibilities and then broadening out again as they start to develop strategic responsibility for businesses as directors or CEOs.
The certificates support the specialisation phase perfectly, providing a structure within which people can confidently gain thorough specialist skills, and make the move into a managerial position.
They are also an ideal way for non-digital people to demonstrate their passion and interest in a particular specialism in order to gain entry to the industry. Successful completion of a certificate also guarantees automatic entry to our MSc courses, so they really do set individuals up for a specific career development path.
With entry to university becoming increasingly challenging, Econsultancy is keen to ensure we're supporting individuals in terms of skills development throughout their careers, and the certificates are another step in this journey.
Ideally, we would look to help school leavers find their first digital marketing positions at age 18, supporting them through their first two or three years through various training initiatives with a view to having them complete a graduate certificate by the time they are 22.
They would then have a qualification accredited at the same level as an undergraduate degree at roughly the same time as a university graduate, but with three years of solid experience.
By the time they decided to move on to the MSc stage, they would be on an even playing field in terms of qualifications, but with significantly more work experience and probably a deeper understanding of digital.
To find out more about Econsultancy's Digital Certificates, you can find details of the courses on offer here.
To read more about careers in digital, see Econsultancy's Digital Marketing and E-commerce Careers Guide: For Senior Digital Professionals and For Students and Graduates