In line with Bristol Digital Week taking place 16-20 October 2017, we catch up with individuals leading the way in digital and tech in the region to capture their views on skills in the digital sector and where the future is headed.
Here we chat to Lidia Drzewiecka, founder of web and brand marketing company Visuable, as part of our 'Bristol Digital Leaders' interview series.
Tell us a bit about your business and what it does?
Visuable is a new age digitally-integrated agency and an image-driven web and brand marketing company. We help individuals and SMEs tell the story of their brand through personable images, immersive websites and impactful marketing communications. To date we’ve helped over 100 businesses in the South West to align their digital presence with their brand personality, stand out as experts in their industry and start killing it online.
From an education, skills and training perspective, what does the digital sector look like?
Millennials, which will soon make up around 50% of the workforce, aren’t short of digital skills. Social media, photography, and digital design are second nature to them. I see two issues unfolding in the digital sector from an education, skills and training perspective regarding millennials.
- Millennials, although very knowledgeable, tend to lack the ability to commercialise their skills and put them to good use. It’s one thing learning about marketing, for example, in a lecture, but a whole other ball-game applying this in the business world. Millennials can sometimes lack soft skills like the ability to communicate which is something that can’t be taught in a lecture but needs to be practiced.
- Some current business owners and hiring managers from Gen X and later, fall short on utilising the potential of our millennials. They need to realise that they are reshaping the workplace environment and don’t have the same traditional factors or values motivating them. Once they grasp this understanding, they can harness their potential much more, and probably learn a lot from them, especially in this fast-paced technological world.
At Visuable, I help train university students and offer them work placements, despite most, if not all, of my clients falling around the 40’s mark. Here, students can get first-hand experience of how a small digital agency commercialises photography, design and social media skills to really get businesses off the ground. I tend to look for motivated students willing to learn, as opposed to ones with lots of experience, which is an unrealistic and limiting expectation many employers unfortunately have. Not all students have lots of experience under their belt and they need an employer that is willing to give them a chance and invest in them – you’ll find you get a lot more from the underdog students.
Fortunately, South West universities like UWE Bristol offer brilliant digital skills courses and really push their students to get some industry experience. I personally hold a BA Hons in Media and Cultural Studies which is a theoretical and applied multimedia undergraduate degree. I was taught how to develop media and to understand and value its impact on a cultural context. I was nurtured as a creative and trained in technical skills like photography, film, web design, blogging and social media through practical academic assignments.
I was also pushed to explore work placement opportunities. I’m sure today these courses are even more engaging and reflect the demands of the modern digital landscape. In fact, there are even more opportunities that help graduates link up with companies through match funded internships. This is exactly how I’ve hired my first employee, a current marketing student at UWE.
Do you have any skills gaps in your business?
Visuable has all the skills that are required to find, set-up, market and deliver projects. We’re also growing and therefore hiring people with the same skills in order to deliver the growing amount of projects we have. I prefer to hire younger, untrained yet motivated people like recent graduates or current student interns as they are more likely to understand the mission and vision of my company, which differs from that of more traditional digital agencies.
This is challenging at times because even though the students pick up all the digital skills really fast, they often don’t have the full understanding of how to apply them into the commercial world. I can personally relate to this as I was faced with the same problem 6 years ago, when I first graduated. Moreover, I recall that all jobs I was applying for required prior work experience, which I obviously didn’t have. This has led me to setting up my company and actively giving back by offering work experience opportunities to young, inexperienced students and graduates.
We hire on personality, not skills. Once hired, I personally help my trainees bridge the gap between theory and practice so they can get their foot in the door faster. I take students on for short term internships designed to help young people apply their digital skills into the real world environment. Over the 3-month period, the students are trained and challenged with a variety of tasks: from photo editing, through website building to content marketing. I’ve trained several students in the past and lately I am in the position to train and keep them working for Visuable.
Do you think there are skills gaps in the digital sector overall?
The digital sector is growing extremely fast. Powered by ubiquitous computing, the internet and mobile connectivity, mean that nowadays high quality digital services can be sourced globally. The creative direction of these however remains grounded and requires local knowledge and insights. I think there are many gaps in the digital sector because of this fundamental disconnect between the digital and the physical world.
For example, with all the online apps and platforms available today it is possible for anyone to launch themselves as a web designer or digital marketer. With some time and effort, they will get clients and will even do a very good job in the end. However, websites and marketing comms cannot convey the physicality and personality of a business unless the creative direction of the website and/or marketing truly understands and resonates with the brand values of the business they represent. This is where digital skills collide with market psychology.
What can we do to make the most of the digital talent in the region?
There are lots of things that can be done, all of which take time and a bit of education. Ensure businesses in the South West are well informed about the options/opportunities and support that universities provide employers if they’re to hire from their pool of students. There are some fantastic programs in place!
Similarly, make students aware of businesses in the South West region that are looking to hire and really ensure to focus on the skills they’ll gain from industry experiences and particular job roles that they can use as a springboard to kick-starting their career. Big companies aren’t always best!
This could be achieved by building a platform which connects digital talent with companies who are looking to hire, targeting businesses at conferences, speaking to students at career fairs and doing university talks.
Is international trade important to your business? If so, how do you ensure your business has the right skills to successfully trade overseas?
Visuable currently offers their services to businesses in Cyprus, Poland and other areas of the EU as well as the UK, but is working with the Department for International Trade in the South West to improve exports and put a plan of action together for international business growth. The Export for Growth programme is the ERDF funded export programme in the region. This program will help Visuable to enhance, adapt and channel their skills to instil an internationally-minded business focus within all our employees.
About Lidia Drzewiecka
Lidia is a passionate, inspirational and transformational Creative Director. Her clients rave about her ability to extract a clear vision, turn that vision into a reality and create an online identity that they are proud to show off.
From an extensive career in marketing, photography and web design to a successful business owner, Lidia is synonymous with innovative, insightful, high-quality work. Lidia created Visuable in early 2015 and has worked with 100+ brands, transforming their visual identities in a way that has not only lead to business growth but also inspired personal and business confidence.
Bristol Digital Week
Check out the series of events taking place during Bristol Digital Week 2017, together with partners BBC Academy, Open Doors, Venturefest and Bristol Festival of Ideas.
Read more interviews with individuals leading the way in digital in the region from our Bristol Digital Leaders series:-
- Q&A with Luke Aikman, CEO at Nudge Digital
- Q&A with Nick Dean, MD at ADLIB
- Q&A with Gabriella Cox, digital sector lead at EEN
- Q&A with Oli Ward, founder at Develop Me