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Taking digital marketing skills to Indigenous communities during National Indigenous History Month and beyond

June is Canada’s National Indigenous History month and June 21st National Indigenous Peoples Day. Darian Kovacs, the founding partner of Jelly Digital Marketing, describes the positive impact of a new training course designed to encourage greater numbers of Indigenous people into digital marketing.

I happen to be Indigenous, and I’m all too aware about the twin crises of residential schools in Canada and the ongoing issue with high levels of opioid dependency in communities. But we can do something positive – at Jelly Digital Marketing we’re running a partnership with the different nations, the 263 Indigenous communities across Canada, to provide training to help people find jobs in “new collar” work.

We’ve teamed with a range of partners to encourage Indigenous people into digital marketing while still living in communities. Enabling them to remain with their family but make some good money (the average salary of a digital marketing specialist in Canada is $50,793 per year, according to a report by Payscale). The partners working to bring our Jelly Academy training to Indigenous communities include the Canadian Council of Aboriginal Businesses, Google, Facebook and Hootsuite (providing certifications), Shopify (providing stores), and Best Buy, which will ensure that anyone Indigenous needing a laptop or a cell phone will receive them.

We’ve brought the training to Indigenous communities to address two problems. First, that Indigenous people are experiencing the horrible emotional and physical ripple effect of the residential schools, which has really affected people to the point of alcoholism and drug overdoses – there’s a systemic dysfunction around many communities that is really devastating. And, so often, there’s no leg up or out. The second aspect to this, is that many people in these communities don’t have the access or connections to digital marketing skills and resources. We’re going in as an Indigenous organisation and saying “we’re also Indigenous, you can learn these skills and break the cycle. Or, if you’re an Indigenous business owner looking to sell more products, you’ll be gaining the skills and tools to achieve that.”

Digital advertising, PR, SEO and social media are the four main areas of focus. We’ve developed four schools, one for each specialism, at the Jelly Academy – like in Harry Potter – so that people can learn online over six weeks and, at the end, will receive certification. Google’s going to get you certified, Hootsuite’s going to get you certified, Facebook’s going to get you certified, to ensure people use those skills to get a job in the industry, infusing the digital marketing talent pool with Indigenous people.

Agency and marketing departments need this infusion because growth in digital jobs outpaces the economy by four to one each year, and the demand for experienced digital marketers grew 92% in just five years. As an agency, when we’re looking to hire someone with SEO skills, we’re really limited. Any candidate has been able to self-proclaim that they’re a “ninja”, an “expert” or “guru”, the three grossest terms in the world. But, in the last couple of years the bar, in the form of amazing certifications, has been created and there’s now an accountability to quality. And it means that the teaching style has to be based on really practical stuff – it can’t be theory, it has to be really pragmatic.

For hiring agencies, not only are we bringing more people into the market who are hireable, we’re also providing an injection of “bar certified” digital marketers who are Indigenous. That’s extra special because it provides access to these incredible people who grew up appreciating the importance of story which is so central to digital marketing – we love stories, our whole tradition is based around them.

In terms of growth, the Canadian government has been really supportive with grants that cover 60% to 100% of our tuition, and if they don’t cover it we have scholarships for Indigenous people. We also have scholarships for women because there really need to be more in SEO, and other areas of digital marketing, so that it doesn’t continue to be a big dude fest.

Rising numbers of Indigenous nations have become involved, and it’s become this quiet movement that is gaining momentum. Our first pilot was with the Métis nation six months ago, and we’re now national – 40 Indigenous people have completed the course so far, with a new cohort of 50 about to join the Academy.

Over the next five years this will make a real impact because, talking to other agency owners, it’s clear that they want options for good quality digital marketers that aren’t all white. Diverse people who can bring incredible perspectives about being Black, or Chinese, or Indigenous to the marketing industry. It’s already clear that, after six weeks of training, people get good paying, high quality jobs, where they can stay in their community and, thanks to Best Buy, have access to really good tech tools. And that’s such positive news during National Indigenous History Month.

Jelly Marketing is a member of the Institute of Communication Agencies. Report on Marketing is where leading Canadian agencies showcase their insights, cutting-edge research and client successes. The Report on Marketing provides a valuable source of thought leadership for Canadian marketers to draw inspiration from. Find more articles like this at the Report on Marketing.

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