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How is the employment crisis affecting the marketing and communications industry?


By Cameron Clarke, Editor

February 15, 2012 | 7 min read

As the UK's economic crisis worsens - 2.67 million now find themselves unemployed - The Drum asks agencies how their businesses are being affected and industry bodies tell us what they will do to help.

Alison Meadows, managing director of Cambridge creative agency Ware Anthony Rust

We assumed that in the current climate it would be easier to recruit people and bring the right kind of people into the business – but actually the reverse has been true.

Good quality people seem to be thin on the ground and that's maybe because they are staying put, but the people who are around seem to not have sufficient skills and experience for our industry.

We opted last year to employ an apprentice, assuming that it would be a fairly easy role to attract and fill - after all our industry is a little bit more relaxed and creative than a lot of regular businesses.

It took six months to find one competent and worth employing apprentice. Many said they would come for an interview and never turned up. Many came with a range of issues as to why they hadn’t got on the employment ladder or gone further in their education. There weren’t the number of candidates and the quality of them wasn’t very good.

Because we ended up being successful, even though it was hard work, we said, 'right we’ll have another one' – an admin assistant who we could train into an account executive. We haven’t been able to fill that role at all.

We expected to be inundated. Not at all.

I do wonder whether the story behind the numbers is that there are jobs and people aren’t going for them.

Jim Brigden, CEO of London digital agency I Spy Marketing

I still don’t think digital marketing is seen by a lot of graduate level entrants as the sexiest place to go to, which I find a bit bizarre.

There are creative/advertising agencies that are inundated with CVs but I think most of the digital marketing specialists aren’t in the same position. I wonder if that’s because universities and the education system are still set up around traditional business models and the newer entrants to the space aren’t as well known or aren’t as well sold by the academic places.

We don’t see a huge swamping of CVs coming our way from graduates, so from a graduate perspective that’s got to be an opportunity – digital marketing agencies are still crying out for people.

I don't think [graduates] are aware of the level of work that is out there in those sectors. I think the government and the universities and careers advisors need updating because it all seems a bit out of date to me.

When we test new starters for maths and written skills, you still see a lot of basic errors or stuff that you’re not expecting to see. The attention to detail and the hunger isn’t as strong as you would expect it to be. Quite a lot of the people fail the basic maths test, and we can’t employ them.

Every digital company, both client and agency, wants people who are skilled operators – managing AdWords or being a natural search specialist or being a business analyst – and there aren’t enough of them around. So if I were a young graduate I would be skilling up big style in data skills, technical skills and maths skills, because there’s still a shortage in the online marketing world.

Duncan Parry, chief operating officer of London digital marketing agency STEAK

The digital industry still faces a skills gap; on the surface the unemployment rate should provide an opportunity to bring in fresh talent.

The obvious opportunity is amongst young people, with 1.04m unemployed. That's a real opportunity to cherry pick the best entry-level candidates.

But the needs of many agencies and brands are at the mid to senior level – experience is valuable. These types of candidates don't stay unemployed for long.

There's a long term structural issue in the industry that will only be addressed through consistent training initiatives like the IPA's certificates, the industry maturing over time and candidates stepping sideways into the digital industry – and those sort of candidates are the ones to look for most amongst the unemployed. Skilled, experienced individuals looking to learn about a new industry and apply their experience.

Deborah Dawton, chief executive of the Design Business Association

The DBA recognises the rise in unemployment in the UK as an increasing problem, especially amongst young people aged 16-24. We are currently working with CC Skills on a feasibility project to look at a national work-based training scheme for young adults within the creative industries, particularly for positions that do not necessarily require higher education qualifications.

We hope that this project will lead to a pilot scheme, that we will be able to announce later in the year, enabling us to encourage more young people to consider, and access, careers in the creative industry.

Phil Morgan, director of policy and communications at PR industry body the CIPR

The CIPR’s State of the Profession survey shows that fear of redundancy among public relations professionals declined in our sector between 2010 and 2011, although this year might see the return of this anxiety as the UK’s economic outlook is persistently uncertain.

Young practitioners, who are finding themselves without permanent work, should continue to do what they can to distinguish themselves in a tight job market by ensuring they are committed to professional development. The CIPR offers a wide range of training and development opportunities for public relations practitioners at all levels – these practical skills could be what sets them apart at their next job interview.

Furthermore, based on our recent experience, practitioners at all levels are making sure that they can compete effectively in the jobs market by studying the CIPR’s range of qualifications. A significant percentage of employers are also supporting their employees in this – recognising that it makes sense to retain good staff and to help them maximise their potential for the organisation.

Chris Combemale, chief executive of the Direct Marketing Association

The DMA is currently conducting an economic impact analysis of the UK direct marketing industry and initial anecdotal evidence from our hundreds of corporate members shows that some sectors are doing better than others and are bucking the national trend by adding new jobs to the economy.

The results of January’s Bellwether report showed that investment in direct marketing is growing, particularly in digital sectors, so that indicates a heightened demand for workers with these prized skill sets.

Innovation, entrepreneurship and investment in skilled staff are vital for the long-term health of direct marketing. This a great time for start-ups and SMEs to make their mark on the industry. We need to do more to develop the next generation of talent, which is why the DMA is supporting initiatives such as the Graeme Robertson Trust to give young graduates a route into the industry.

While the economy is faltering, experience from previous recessions tells us that companies that invest in direct marketing and skilled personnel emerge strongest when the economy bounces back.


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