A few months ago I was invited to become a Digital Ambassador for the Digital Youth Programme, an initiative organised by Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council to support and inspire secondary school students aged 13-18 to consider a career in the digital sector. 

My first visit was to my old school, Banbridge Academy where I was asked to talk to the students about my education and work experience within the digital sector. As a follow-up, I was interviewed by Young Enterprise Northern Ireland about my education and journey into Northern Ireland’s burgeoning digital sector. A copy of my interview is below and can also be viewed on the Young Enterprise Website.

Can you tell us a bit about your career journey and academic background?

I spent 7 years at Banbridge Academy from 1992-1999, where I completed my GCSE’s, and A Level’s in English Literature, History and Economics. I always enjoyed reading literature, poetry and creative writing and found history really interesting too. I’d briefly thought about a career in journalism but wasn’t sure so I also wanted to choose a practical subject that would be relevant for many roles to keep my options open. Having studied Economics for GCSE, and as Business Studies wasn’t an option at the time, I opted to continue studying Economics for A Level and applied to study Business Studies at Ulster University. The course was broad, covering many aspects of business including finance, human resource management, operations management, and marketing. It was when I got the opportunity to do the marketing modules that I discovered that I enjoyed these the most and decided to pursue a career in this area of business.

Having had the opportunity to spend my year out in the Health & Safety department of NIE Powerteam I was able to deliver public safety programmes to primary school children which was a great experience. After graduation, I participated in a graduate programme run by my local Enterprise Centre in Banbridge in partnership with Parity Training, following which I secured my first full-time marketing role in an environmental consultancy based in Newtownards. Over the years I worked in various marketing roles in the construction sector and in marketing and web design agencies to build up my experience. Over the years I continued to study marketing through the Chartered Institute of Marketing to complete my Professional Postgraduate Diploma in Marketing and became a Chartered Marketer. I also gained a Diploma in Digital Marketing with Distinction via the Digital Marketing Institute. With this knowledge and over 10 years’ experience in the industry, I launched my own Digital Marketing business in 2014 and have been working on developing my skills and growing my client base over the past 3 years.

What excites you about working in the digital industry?

I’ve always felt that the growth of social media has greatly helped me to build my own personal brand. This made it possible for me to launch and promote my business much sooner than I would have been able to do so without it, therefore I think the thing that excites me most is the huge amount of opportunities that we have to communicate to our peers and target audiences online and demonstrate what sole consultants and SMEs can offer.

The digital sector is also recognised as one of the fastest growing sectors in Northern Ireland and the UK as a whole and this is also very exciting. For many years the marketing profession has been allocated a lower weighting in terms of salaries, and its overall importance to the success of businesses has been downplayed, when compared to other comparable service professions such as IT, legal and finance roles which attract higher salaries. Hopefully, as organisations are becoming more aware of their need to invest in digital transformation and adopt digital marketing practices we will see change. A lack of skilled and experienced digital marketing professionals in the region has become evident, therefore it would be great to see those who have invested heavily in their own skills development start to experience a more even playing field in the future, and to see those employed in marketing roles receiving greater financial and practical support from their employers to enable them to develop their skills. These sort of changes in the digital industry would be really exciting!

What advice would you give to young people interested in a career in digital in the future?

I’ve always enjoyed writing and now spend a considerable amount of my time creating marketing content for clients such as blogs, email marketing campaigns, brochures and writing copy for web pages, but there are many subjects you can study that can lead to a career in the digital sector – for example, if you like IT there are roles in web development and if you like art or more creative subjects, there are roles in animation, graphic and web design, video and photography.

I think it’s important to do a job you really enjoy and that means choosing subjects that interest you and make you want to learn more. You will do better in these subjects because you have a passion for them. You then need to work out how you can apply the skills and interests you have to find a job that is right for you.

It’s important to get as much work experience as possible at a young age and to take up opportunities to participate in sport and other activities such as Young Enterprise and the Duke of Edinburgh Awards Scheme. Also, do some voluntary work if you can. It doesn’t matter a great deal which clubs and societies you are involved in as all of them will help you to improve your communication, team working, organisation and problem-solving skills, which are essential for later life and any job you find yourself in. However, if you have a specific career in mind at a young age and actively pursue work experience opportunities in it during your university years, it will give you a competitive advantage over others who haven’t had this experience when it comes to job interviews. My advice is to say ‘yes’ to as many opportunities as you can realistically fit in around your studies.

What opportunities do you believe there to be for future careers in the digital sector in the Armagh, Banbridge & Craigavon area and Northern Ireland, and how can young people embrace these?

Businesses need ongoing support to set up their digital infrastructure and manage their communications channels. I think there are many opportunities for people with the right skills and experience to secure roles or create a role for themselves within the digital sector if they keep up to date with what is going on in the sector – it’s important to attend and participate in industry events, read business news regularly, and build connections with groups of people who can help and advise you such as your local council, enterprise centre, local business networks, regional bodies such as Invest NI and InterTrade Ireland and digital organisations such as Digital DNA and Creativity NI.

Local colleges and education and training establishments such as Ulster UniversityChartered Institute of Marketing and Digital Marketing Institute offer courses to help individuals to upskill. Young people can also get involved in programmes such as the Digital Youth Programme and CoderDoJo Programmes to learn programming languages and Digital DNA’s Digital Futures Programme.

Denise Cowan is a Digital Marketing Consultant based in Northern Ireland, specialising in digital auditing and strategy, marketing campaigns, content marketing and copywriting.  Email denise@digital-den.co.uk  if you’d like to discuss anything you’ve read in more detail. Also connect on LinkedIn,Facebook , Twitter, or visit www.digital-den.co.uk