Upskilling and reskilling, especially when it comes to digital fluency, is becoming increasingly important as technology evolves and its influence on the Canadian labour market becomes ubiquitous. Polytechnics offer specialized short-cycle courses designed to provide businesses and mid-career workers with the tools and knowledge they need to succeed.
At Sheridan, professors Garrett Hall and Dr. Sujinda Hwang-Leslie have partnered with the Pilon School of Business and the Faculty of Continuing and Professional Studies to develop a digital marketing micro-credential that will be launched in fall 2021.
They also recently launched the Building Small Business Resilience Digital Marketing Training Program in collaboration with the EDGE Entrepreneurship Hub (one of the institution’s six research and incubation centers). This free, 12-week intensive course teaches participants the elements of building, executing and tracking a digital marketing campaign. Designed for business owners from underrepresented groups, the program is funded in part by the Future Skills Centre and includes $500 for use toward digital marketing activities and expenses.
Polytechnics Canada connected with the professors to discuss efforts in both areas.
Polytechnics Canada: How did you identify the need for short-cycle programs related to digital marketing?
Garrett Hall: Marketing is often done in one of two ways – using traditional means or digital media. While digital media were at one time a subset of traditional marketing efforts, the tables have turned. Digital promotion overtook traditional in 2019 and continues to grow by about 14 per cent per year, magnified still more by COVID-19. Traditional promotion continues, but there’s no new growth. We believed digital instruction had become it essential to businesses and wanted to build this skillset.
While textbooks and online sources often focus on high-level strategy or specific digital marketing tactics, we wanted to close the gap. Businesses need an essential understanding of digital marketing and actions they can take today. The micro-credential we’ve developed will give the mid-career worker what they need to develop a growth strategy and how to apply various digital tactics to support it.
PC: How does this course differ from a traditional digital marketing program?
Dr. Sujinda Hwang-Leslie: At Sheridan, we believe in preparing our graduates to be job-ready with hands-on skills, so they can walk into a job and start working immediately. Unlike traditional marketing programs, which focus more on theoretical knowledge, Sheridan’s micro-credential programs put more emphasis on practical skills. In a traditional program, students might have to pass an exam or come up with a marketing plan. In our program, students are expected to create a marketing plan and execute it using real digital channels, then evaluate the results and reflect on the outcomes.
PC: You are also involved in the ‘Building Small Business Resilience’ Digital Training Program. What led to the formation of that program and the decision to target underrepresented business owners?
SHL: Garrett and I have a keen interest in start-ups and small businesses because we used to be small business owners ourselves. The COVID-19 pandemic really devastated small businesses and underrepresented owners were among those affected most. The prolonged lockdown forced business to quickly pivot online, but we could see huge skill gaps, especially for owners who suddenly had to adapt and learn these new skills by themselves.
The ‘Building Small Business Resilience’ Training Program, which is funded by Future Skills Centre and Sheridan College, equips underrepresented small business owners with digital marketing skills that support adaptation and resilience. They’ll be ready for future disruption.
PC: The program is 12-weeks long. Given the timeframe, do learners have enough time to absorb the theory and apply what they’re learning?
SHL: Recognizing that our learners bring many years of business experience with them, our goal is to scaffold new concepts to past knowledge. The program is also quite intensive, with two lectures and one workshop each week. By using an applied, experiential learning model, participants are learning by doing, experimenting and seeing their results in real time.
PC: What can participants expect by the end of their training? Are there further resources you recommend?
GH: After the 12-week program, business owners should have the tools they need to supercharge their business marketing and generate success moving forward.
Sujinda and I developed the program with a lot of research and drawing upon a vast assortment of resources. Some of my favourite resources are content blogs from HubSpot, articles on LinkedIn and YouTube videos. For books, I find any book by Jason McDonald to be very informative for tactics (https://www.jm-seo.org/). My favourite book on strategy is Digital Marketing by Dave Chaffey and Fiona Ellis-Chadwick. In terms of tools, some of my favourites are Asana for content management and organizing campaigns. On the technical side, I find the WordPress platform and the various digital tool plugins (such as Yoast, Google Site Kit) to be beneficial for building online promotion.