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Sue Little Feature England

Sue Little talks training and development

By The Drum | Administrator

March 20, 2008 | 6 min read

Fresh faces

The landscape for training and development has changed radically in the last few years but in reality, very few have actually picked up on the subtleties of these changes or what they could mean for the industry as a whole. You may ask what gives me the right to hold what seems like a fairly opinionated view and you would be right to do so.

As the largest player in the region, it would be fair to say that McCann sometimes feels like a training school for the industry as a whole. As an agency we are of such a size that training and development is absolutely mandatory for us, as opposed to being an added benefit discussed with a prospective employee in the same breath as company car and holiday policy.

Unless we invest in training and development we just will not recruit or retain the levels of talent we need. I know I am not alone in this feeling and the heads of the larger agencies in the regions only have to look around to see how many of their former employees are occupying senior positions in other agencies on the patch to validate the theory.

Economic slowdown

If you look at current economic indicators, there is strong evidence that we are heading towards an economic slowdown, and when this happens training is often one of the first casualties of recession. However, training and development are two of the key areas that can help companies through tough times and retain key employees in a challenging marketplace.

Nowhere is this adage more true than in the area of graduate recruitment and development, and it is for that reason that we’ve invested heavily in this area. The launch of our Summer School last year, which provides 20 students with the opportunity to gain an insight into the industry and compete for a position at the agency, was a first for the region. In addition to this our recent alliance with the CIM Pitch event are just two manifestations of our commitment to young talent. But it goes much further than simply staging events. Universities have raised the bar in recent years in terms of what graduates can expect from employers, and employers have a responsibility to deliver if they want to keep their talent.

At McCann we’ve recognised that identifying and nurturing young talent needs to be addressed in the same way that Premier League Football teams operate youth academies. Just because you are Manchester United does not mean you can hope that all of the local footballing talent beats a path to your door, which is why the club has networks of talent scouts and feeder clubs to broaden the net to give the widest possible reach.

In the same way, agencies need to adopt a similar stance if they are to succeed in recruiting and retaining the brightest talent and it is in this area that the whole development agenda has changed in recent years. Agencies long ago recognised they could not deliver all training themselves so they outsourced elements to specialists and sent people to conferences and external courses to address shortcomings.

true collaboration.

But the net has broadened even more now, and it is not just about outsourcing, it is about true collaboration; collaboration with universities and higher education institutes to understand what courses they are running and how they dovetail with your own development programmes, and using such relationships as a talent scouting network are examples. But such relationships and networks take time to bear fruit which is why organisations cannot turn training on and off to address short term goals.

It’s not just about matching your development programmes to plug the gaps not covered by university courses. It is also about looking at how you can align your own training activity with universities and colleges in such a way that you can offer valuable professional accreditations to employees completing your own training programmes.

But the collaborative theme does not stop with colleges. Professional bodies such as the CIM and others need to be brought into the fold and again this takes time, effort and money to align your goals with theirs.

A good example of how professional bodies and institutions can work in tandem with industry can be seen in the CIM’s The Pitch event that we recently hosted, and in the partnership we have formed with Manchester Metropolitan University to offer students a post graduate certificate in Integrated Marketing.

The CIM event ‘The Pitch’ enabled us to engage with students across the north of England in a real life pitch situation. Competition is tough and spaces are limited, with only 15 teams being able to compete. It’s a gruelling process where teams have two weeks to prepare a live brief and then just three minutes and eight slides to sell their idea to the judges.

It is a wonderful way of engaging with our talent of the future and a great opportunity for them to see what they are working towards. The three finalists this year were all CIM students – a real credit to the course and its tutors.

If the importance of training is accepted as being a cornerstone for future growth, more people in the industry need to make the long term commitment to it because ultimately training is symbiotic.

Your talent may leave for pastures new having benefited from your training programmes, but how great does it feel when you get someone from a rival agency who has been through their own prestigious programme. And it is for that reason the responsibility for development lies with the many and not the few.

Having planted that seed why not let it germinate over a glass of wine and consider the difference between claimed and actual behaviour next time your GP asks you about your weekly alcohol consumption or a bright eyed graduate asks you about your training and development programme.

Sue Little Feature England

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