“Micro-upskilling”: DMA calls on industry to build learning cultures to help plug skills gap

The DMA’s “micro-upskilling” pilot results reveal better learning experiences but more work needed to embed learning as part of culture

Just over two-thirds of marketers engaging in one hour a week of learning are reporting that their organisation is now more engaged with their skills development.

The results of a “micro-upskilling” pilot from the UK’s Data & Marketing Association (DMA) also found that just over half of “learners” that took part felt more engaged with upskilling, while 39% said they found micro-upskilling better than their previous learning experiences.

The “micro-skilling” initiative – involving learners committing to one hour a week of flexible or bite-sized e-learning and development – was announced last summer as a “call to arms” from the DMA to try and tackle the industry’s growing skills shortage. The DMA kicked off the pilot in late 2022 as part of a wider campaign to move the industry closer to reducing the skills gap.

Managing Director Rachel Aldighieri said: “Our micro-upskilling pilot findings are really encouraging – demonstrating to businesses how they can develop these building blocks to supercharge skills acquisition in the short term, while instilling long-term learning habits across their organisation that benefits the employee and employer.”

Micro-upskilling encouraging learning

Organisations including Experian, RSPCA, Golden Charter, Visit Scotland, PETA, and The Dragonfly Agency were among the 16 DMA members who took part in the eight to 10 week pilot.

Learners in these organisations then completed a survey to help the DMA understand the experience of micro-upskilling as a learning approach.

Nine in 10 said they would like to continue micro-upskilling within their organisations, while 63% said they would feel more confident and positive about their career if micro-upskilling was permanent at their organisation and 33% would be more likely to stay with them.

But while almost all (95%) of learners felt the new skills they had learned as part of the pilot were useful in their current role, the survey uncovered some challenges to the commitment to one hour a week.

Six in 10 admitted to challenges with finding the time to upskill and 55% said they had too many competing priorities. As a result, just over a third told the DMA that they had managed to “micro-upskill” most weeks throughout the pilot, while 39% said they were able to do it ‘some weeks’ and 26% stated that they were unable to ‘do it very often’.

Embed learning in culture

Aldighieri pointed to the need to embed learning into organisational culture, and that this culture must “come from the top”, though she recognised that the UK’s current economic climate is instilling competing priorities.

She highlighted micro-upskilling as a viable alternative to more traditional training methods and the survey’s result promoting the engagement with the approach.

“In the current economic climate, financial and time constraints mean that traditional training approaches are harder to implement, yet it is critical that our industry doesn’t neglect skills development and the growth of our teams. Micro-upskilling provides an effective and productive way of investing in our people and, in turn, plugging skills gaps to drive business growth.

“It’s easy for skills development to fall to the bottom of the list when you’re fighting for survival so it’s really important that this doesn't become the case, that we’re really using skills as a driver for growth. The pilot’s results are encouraging – micro-upskilling could be a manageable way that’s not choosing skills above other things, but building skills development into everyone’s daily work lives.

People pledge

The DMA is relaunching its DMA Code for members with a new People pillar, which will request member organisations to commit to micro-upskilling for an hour a week in all staff learning and development programmes.

Aldighieri said: “What we’re driving to is creation of continuous learning cultures. There’s this worry that you have these “one hit wonders” in terms of the courses or a sudden enthusiasm towards skills and it trails off, but that isn’t going to fix the problem in the long term. It’s really important to get the buy-in from leadership teams.”