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Should I be teaching SEO?
David Edmundson-Bird is the Director of Executive Programmes at MMU where he works to develop under-graduate and post-graduate qualifications. As well as this David, or @groovegenerator as you might know him, works with The Orchard Agency which aims to help graduates develop skills for the digital creative sector. David continues our series of guest blogs by looking at the skills gap in experience that the digital sector demands from their graduates.
“Good morning students. Today, we’re going to learn how to do SEO. Yes – that’s right, we’re going to learn how to make your web site generate quality visitors.
Okay – it’ll take about a day to learn this, then as a result you’ll all be great search engine marketers. Straightaway! Yes – that’s right, as soon as you leave the classroom today, you’ll be great SEO specialists. You’ll be able to walk out, get a job in an agency and then you’ll start doing great SEO from the minute you walk in.”
Hold on a minute. This isn’t some kind of SEO firm wet dream. This is a fictional account of the preferred scenario spelled out to me recently by a senior SEO executive in a local firm. “What I want from universities are people who can start in the firm on day 1 and start being productive SEO execs!”
I’m using SEO today as a vehicle for my story, but you can consider any digital marketing tool or technique here.
Now I’ve got a few things I want you to think about, and it is about the role of Universities in the creation of the future workforce. I am passionate about the need for my University to develop curriculum that meets the need of the regional wealth creating industries, but it’s also important to recognise what a university is not for. And that’s when we start to think about what the role of companies are in this process.
The bit of a university that deals with degree qualifications isn’t a training house. Many of you will have been to University, spent three years in which you “discovered yourself”. Many people may have resented your opportunity, and some of you will have done it all free. What did you learn? It’s quite funny talking to creative directors, MDs, and other directors who ask what’s University for – and I ask them: what was it like for you? What did you learn?
Training can take a day. You can do an SEO course in a day at Econsultancy, with another “Advanced” day later on. So it takes 2 days to learn SEO then? It might, but it does not make you a Master when you come out. I hear stories of it taking several years of daily SEO experiences before you could be described as “accomplished.” Moreover, do you need to go to University to learn SEO or can you bypass University completely? Well – once upon a time, we did.
When I was a lad, half of my mates left school at 16 to do apprenticeships. That really doesn’t happen much now, but imagine a world where kids leave school at 16 to become SEO apprentices (I like Manchester firm Democracy PR’s view of “The PR Apprentice”). After a couple of years, you’ll get a proper SEO monkey (this is a term I have heard being bandied about recently by hardcore SEOers). But what happens after that? Where does the experienced SEOer go after that?
My view is that the Vocational University is about educating people in the context of the industry they are entering. I can educate them about SEO, but I don’t train them to be an SEO expert. They will understand the context of SEO in relation to other digital marketing tools. They will understand customer behaviour, recognise the difference between behavioural and psychographic segmentation. They will know why things are done, and why things shouldn’t be done. They’ll be the kinds of people who can identify solutions to problems. They’ll be able to explain why they made those choices. They’ll know the good and the bad in different solutions. They’ll be critical of any choice available to them. They’ll be sceptical. They’ll be creative.
Does that sound like what you’re after?
Amazingly many of us are already doing that.
You could take someone like that and then give him or her that experience (the training will only take a day after all). But experience is key and that’s something a University cannot offer. Sure, we can promote placements, internships and day-a-week releases: but they have to be provided by the places where experience is gained: the workplace.
So – over to you folks. It’s either time to flood your local University with those experience opportunities, so that when you look at those graduates – they have everything you expect. Or maybe you feel that part can wait until they have joined you as an employee. Your call.