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ANA study on ‘crippling’ talent crisis says students aren’t sure if a career in advertising is meaningful

The talent crisis facing the advertising and marketing industries is hitting a tipping point that could prove to be dire if clear steps aren’t taken to make the fields more appealing, according to a recent report out of the ANA Educational Foundation (AEF).

Attracting top-tier talent to the fields has been a topic of concern for some time now, but the conversation around the issue has gotten got louder in recent years as agencies struggle to lure candidates away from the likes of Facebook and Google as well as startups. The lack of female and minority representation has also given the advertising industry a bad rap as of late, a problem that’s led brands including HP, General Mills and Verizon to demand that their agency partners hire more women and people of colour.

The report found that both marketers and the agencies they work with are facing an “unprecedented talent challenge” that’s largely being driven by “a lack of common vision, vocabulary, and perceived relevance among marketers, young professionals, and the schools that are expected to educate them.” The study also found that students are unclear about career paths in marketing and advertising, and whether or not they constitute “meaningful” work.

Overall, the findings point to a large disconnect between students, universities and employers. According to the AEF, universities are struggling to develop courses that keep up with the changing nature of the marketing and advertising industries while still providing students with things like critical thinking skills. On top of that, the changing nature of the industries has led to course work and textbooks being “out of date almost as soon as they’re published,” which means much of what is being taught to students about the subject is outdated and unrelated to management expectations once they actually enter the field.

The rise of digital, social media and data-based roles has also posed an issue for both graduates and employers since the skills required for these roles are continually changing. According to the AEF, “these constantly evolving skill requirements and job definitions have made it difficult for marketers and agencies to define and promise clear career paths to students and prospective hires with any consistency.”

As marketers and agencies increasingly seek graduates with expertise in data analytics and digital capabilities, they’re finding that many of the people who are actually qualified for these positions would rather work for tech giants and consultancies instead. The study points out that companies like Google, Facebook, Apple and the Boston Consulting Group provide “more generous compensation packages to new hires, both in terms of salary and perks” in comparison to their marketing and advertising counterparts.

Aside from skill set and qualification issues, the study also found that “different generational expectations for job responsibilities, quality of life, and career advancement” are posing problems for marketing executives who aren’t sure how to effectively manage, motivate and retain this new crop of talent that prioritizes “creative” job environments and “purpose” in their work.

To remedy some of these issues, the AEF and ANA have outlined a number of steps that they plan to take in the coming years that will aim to inspire rather than alienate the next generation of talent. Called Pathways 2020, the initiative plans to “make the case for what a creative, innovative and rewarding career marketing can be.”

Part of the initiative involves expanding the AEF’s ‘Visiting Professors’ program, which gives professors a chance to spend time at an advertising or marketing firm so they can get a better sense of how the industries operate on a day-to-day basis. The AEF is aiming to give 1,000 professors on-site experiences by 2020.

The AEF also wants to send 1,000 marketing and advertising executives on campus visits by 2020. According to the AEF, it will “create a formalized toolkit for industry representatives to ensure professional consistency of content and engagement.”

The AEF is also instituting an internship program called ‘M/Ade’ that aims to better leverage the organizations’ academic relationships to connect students with internships that they’re interested in. In addition to a spring semester training program that will teach incoming interns about things like media transparency and multicultural marketing, the AEF is planning to partner with the ANA’s Alliance for Inclusive & Multicultural Marketing (AIMM) to ensure that “a healthy pipeline of diverse talent” is involved with the internship program.

“Finding and retaining talent has been a serious problem in our industry for some time,” said ANA chief executive Bob Liodice in a statement. “But this pioneering new study has revealed that the system to create our next generation of marketing and advertising talent is strained to a breaking point. Immediate action is required, and the AEF has developed the necessary steps to address this critical issue by bridging the gap between the core constituents.”

The report was conducted through market research firm GfK via 55 interviews with deans, professors, chief marketing officers, agency chief executives, human resources leaders and chief talent officers from the industry in addition to 10 focus groups with students and new hires across the US.

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