Yorkshire feature: Are strong links with local universities and colleges important for developing and keeping young talent in the region?

As part of The Drum’s series of UK regional reviews, we caught up with those working across Yorkshire’s creative marketing industries- Bloom, Savvy Marketing, Delete, Brass, Elmwood, Enjoy Digital, Strawberry, Coolpink, Thompson Brand Partners and Robot Food – to see how local agencies felt about working with nearby universities and colleges and their role in developing and keeping young talent in the region.

Leeds Metropolitan University is just one of the many institutions in the region

Are strong links with local universities and colleges important for keeping talent in the region?

Alex Craven, CEO, Bloom: A lot of agencies are now beginning to get together to talk about what we want from universities and we’re starting to talk about how we can do that better. The problem is technology moves faster than the syllabus and we need to make sure students come out properly armed for the requirements of the working world. Spending more time in agencies earlier in their course placement is one thing.

Catherine Shuttleworth, founder and CEO, Savvy Marketing: Across the industry I think we have some real challenges with talent, one of the downsides of the recession is we've lost quite a lot of good talent out of the industry into other sectors. People haven’t invested in junior talent coming through and that means that now we’re left in that middle ground where there isn’t as much talent as before, but that’s not specific to Yorkshire.

We also have to make sure we make ourselves attractive as an industry people want to come and join and that leaves us with a big job to do in the region. There is no doubt we should be working with colleges, schools and we should be thinking about how do we demonstrate that this is a really interesting business to come into. A good example is there is a handful of people left that can draw, and that’s across the country as well as in Yorkshire. There are loads of kids at school totally inspired by art and drawing who do not know these jobs exist. We have a big responsibility to teach people what an art director is, what a writer does. Content will be critical to us in the future, client and agencies alike so we have a responsibility to explain to the future generations how interesting and exciting that can be.

Claire Wood, managing director, Delete: Absolutely, it is vital. We had to recruit a number of roles recently and it’s easy but frustrating in London as there are more people available but they get snapped up within 24 hours and you end up getting into a bidding war and you pay a premium. We have some good links with local colleges, in particular Leeds Met, and a couple of our creatives do go into colleges and universities to give talks and try to develop talent. Our creative director in Leeds is very vocal and has discussed setting up a portal for students just before they graduate to upload their portfolios to try and drum up a bit of support in the area. We all face the same challenges in terms of recruitment and it’s great that we have some brilliant courses, even Huddersfield itself has been recognised as being quite specialist. Many of our interns that we’ve taken on are now with us on a permanent basis.

John Morgan, CEO, Brass: There are a lot of good universities and colleges in the region and it’s quite a hothouse for digital talent in particular. The junior talent have a real get up and go attitude about here and I would say we try and retain as much talent as possible in Yorkshire as there is enough work, enough excitement, and enough innovation within our heartland to satisfy those needs.

That said, there will be some people who fancy a change, who want to go to the bright lights, but I would say there are bucketloads of talented companies in Yorkshire, be they big companies, medium companies that can more than satisfy the needs of young graduates. Whether they’re graduates in PR, design, or digital design or even mathematicians as there a lot of media companies and rather than go into the world of teaching they could go and work a communications agency and flourish in an agency that typically hasn’t had mathematics graduates. I’d say there are more than enough opportunities for local graduates within the area they were educated in and most of the graduates we take on are from Yorkshire universities and colleges and they’re flourishing all the time.

Jon Stubley, managing partner, Elmwood: If you can keep the talent here it’s a win/win, it’s a massive shame when you see hundreds of graduates a year are scrabbling for jobs as there are only so many to go around. I think it’s massively important to try and keep them as a lot think they need to go to London and get the experience, but when people keep moving on and on they’re not learning as much as they could as they’re always onto the next thing and it seems to be a bit of a merry-go-round.

Jonathan Filewood, MD, Enjoy Digital: That’s something we’re looking into actually as there are a couple of positions we have struggled to fulfil and the people coming into the industry, not wanting to do the universities an injustice, but sometimes they are quite removed from the industry and they come out of uni not having enough industry experience and industry knowledge. We’re looking to work with the universities to put back into them and hopefully that will help us in the future to get some candidates straight from the universities that show willing and have some good skills. There is definitely young talent about and because we’re 20-strong we need people to come out with a bit more experience and are self-starters compared with some of our larger neighbours that can spend a lot more time training those people. Being 20-strong we can’t afford to be a training centre they need to come in and, again not wanting to do the unis a disservice, but there is a difference between doing something at uni or college and then in the industry.

Jonathan Leafe, MD, Strawberry: Definitely. But we need to help them deliver courses that mean something in the work place. Too often good candidates need a significant amount of re-training after leaving college/university.

Martin O’Toole, commercial director, Coolpink: Big time. But the quality of graduates is, in my mind, deteriorating annually.

Nick Ramshaw, MD, Thompson Brand Partners: That is a challenge as it’s a bit of a two-edged sword to be honest. We do have lots of connections with colleges and universities and we meet lots of talent and take on graduates every year who are all around 21/22 years old and we can develop them but in a way it’s quite good for them to spend some time in London or other major cities so they can experience working in a different place. It just helps them to be a little more broad minded and helps them to understand how good the situation is here with the mix of clients and the lifestyle. We do like to nurture and develop people but sometimes it feels as though it’s better if they leave us for a while and come back again.

Simon Forster, creative director, Robot Food: The young talent coming out of the universities and colleges is really improving and we’re interested in working with Leeds University on its specially focused design packaging course because a student contacted us recently with a prototype and he’s on his last year at uni and we went to the end of the year show as a result a few months back. We’re really impressed with how the standard is increasing really fast and we’d like to become a part of it because it’s hard when you’re not working on actual real projects so we’d like to start maybe briefing some previous projects and help the students.

There has always been a bit of talent in the area but it’s few and far between and of all the years we have been in business whenever we have spotted talent we’ve employed them and when we are recruiting we find it hard to find the right people because a lot have been drawn out the region and down to London, but what we’re finding now is agencies near us who have London offices a lot of their staff are relocating to Leeds. We’re speaking to recruiters now in London because we are recruiting and the general feeling is people would be happy to relocate as they hear Leeds is amazing. It would be good to nurture some really young talent and get them looking to stay local and we’d be open to giving people jobs.

This article originally featured in the 22 November issue of The Drum which can be purchased from The Drum Store.

The Drum's Yorkshire regional feature is sponsored by Epiphany.

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