What’s the next big thing in digital skills? Insights from the ECF

I was at the ever-wonderful ECF Oxford conference in early April. One of my favourite things about the ECF are the many Open Space sessions, where you can suggest a topic for discussion: it means that participants can shape the agenda, and it’s the reason why the ECF has stayed relevant for me year after year.

My idea for an Open Space session this year was: what’s the next big thing in digital skills? At the session we talked about skills that employers look for (or should be looking for!), useful skills for personal development, how to build digital skills within our organisations, and specific tools that we should be mastering.

What skills will forward-thinking employers be looking for?

Karina Brisby had some great insights to share about what she looks for when she’s building digital teams:

  • People who are good at working with emerging digital tech
  • Ability to work well with contractors, suppliers and service teams
  • Really good analytics people, who can create dashboards and analyse data. Anyone applying for a job with data or analytics should have done the free Google certification.
  • People who can link technology and public facing communications (campaigns, etc) are very valuable

Digital for non-digital teams

This led us into a conversation about how all roles should be digital now, and we discussed charities that are changing the way digital is handled in their structure.  A major UK cancer charity has changed the purpose of their digital team: it now works to upskill the entire organisation in digital. Greenpeace Nordic is doing something similar.

The biggest skill gaps for non-digital teams were identified as:

  • Writing effective online communications
  • A lack of confidence in using digital

The consensus was that many organisations are not making the time and clearing workloads for their non-digital teams to learn digital, and that it’s important that people are given the freedom to trial new working styles and to share the outcomes from them.  The point was made that context switching is not for everyone: some people are deep workers and are more productive when they’re allowed to focus on specific projects. Organisations need to look at facilitating different working styles.

Effective ways to spread digital skills to your organisation and get colleagues excited about digital include:

  • Bringing in new people to demonstrate skills
  • Setting up informal skill swap sessions at lunchtimes
  • Setting up an Agile board for a digital project in a public spot – demonstrates the progress on the project, and profiles an interesting way of working

Management methodologies

Different methodologies work for different types of projects, and we should be thinking about people management as well as project management.  Florian Engel of more onion shared that they use the following:

  • Tech work – Kanban (not full Agile)
  • Campaigning – Agile
  • Event management – Waterfall

A general feeling was that charities don’t invest enough in ‘soft’ skills such as people management, and that this causes problems in so many organisations.

Job interviews

We talked about job interviews: what employers look for and how we can be best prepared when going for interviews.  Some useful advice was to demonstrate curiosity and willingness to learn, and if you’re the interviewer, to probe for that.  Also to get a sense of how people perceive their own skills.

People who have sat on interview panels highlighted some questions that applicants often answer badly:

  • What’s a piece of work you were inspired by? Candidates should be able to show that they are actively following best practice in their field, with specific examples
  • Why do you want to work here? Candidates should be demonstrating enthusiasm for the cause, not making bland statements about wanting to work for a well known brand

We also discussed hiring in what is a very competitive market in some countries. In the UK and Ireland, it’s currently an employee’s market. The feeling was that charities often expect too much. We can’t offer the bonuses and perks that the private sector does, so we should be focusing on personal development and learning opportunities – but so many organisations don’t make time for this.

It was very positive to hear that the exploitative unpaid internship practice seems to be fading away, and charities such as Arthritis UK are now offering an apprenticeship model.

Recommended tools and tactics to learn

  • Google Tag Manager
  • Trello for team working, their blog was also recommended
  • Using Instagram Stories for conversations
  • Creative campaigning tactics – two examples shared were setting up wifi networks with provocative names at conferences to raise awareness of an issue, and partnering with Tinder to encourage people to vote
  • Creating bots for chat and social media

Recommended sources for learning

Anything to add?

Is there something you’d like to share about digital skills? Add it in the comments…

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