Skills Shortage Talent Flexible Working

‘They’re missing development time’: agency bosses need to step up to support young talent


By Ellen Ormesher, Senior Reporter

May 6, 2022 | 6 min read

The IPA’s inaugural Talent and Diversity Conference (May 4) threw up questions on the industry’s talent drain and the full extent of the skills shortage we’re only now seeing as people return to offices. Bosses say more needs to be done to support those at the start of their careers.

people resigning from work

Industry leaders from the IPA’s Talent and Diversity conference weigh in on how to retain talent / Image via AdobeStock

Following the upheaval of the last few years, workers at every level of advertising and marketing are grappling with what the future of work will look like. The industry is currently battling with talent recruitment and retainment, with many agency bosses saying it has reached a crisis point.

“There is certainly a talent crunch. It’s become so difficult to recruit people, we are all competing for the same people,” says Julian Douglas, president of the IPA and vice-chairman of VCCP. “However, I do question the term the ‘great resignation’ because resignation suggests people are opting out, and I think this moment has been much more about reflection.

“Through the lockdowns, everyone was forced to ask some pretty fundamental questions about how they spend their time and what they value. To me, the great resignation feels like more of a re-selection, and I think it’s on us as agencies and as an industry to ensure that the workplace experience of being in this industry is a choice people actively want to make, rather than feel stuck in.”

The problems of hybrid working begin to show

The widespread adoption of flexible working has been praised and seen as the key to getting the most out of employees while easing the strain of working life on people’s wellbeing. The IPA’s recent census revealed that 85% of its member agencies have pivoted to a hybrid model in an attempt to recruit diverse talent.

Flexible working hours are predominantly used by women (86.8%) and have been touted as a key factor in narrowing the gender pay gap that most severely affects working mothers.

It’s not something staff want to give up.

For many agency bosses, the concern is how to support and develop new staff while maintaining a hybrid working approach. Some feel that flexible working is now actually contributing to the lack of opportunities for other sections of the workforce.

Satin Reid, managing director of MediaCom, says that throughout Covid, the agency really prioritized flexible working – a move that served them well at the time.

“But I think when we look back at the last two years, we spend a lot of time patting ourselves on the back about how amazing and productive we were, because we were all surprised we managed to get anything done at all.

“We built up momentum from that, and that is a great thing. However, now the issue is if people are only coming into the office one to two times a week, young talent are missing out on 50% of development time.”

Reid explains that many entry-level workers who are just out of school or who are recent graduates now aren’t used to the client-facing nature of agency life.

“They don’t necessarily know what to do in a meeting or how to contribute in an equal way. I worry a lot about what things will look like in one or two years when they’re expected to be running projects and they just haven’t got the experience.”

Diversity is not just for entry-level

Lack of training and development at the mid-level has been a complaint of many across the industry in recent years. Jordie Wildin, head of growth at Pocc, says that some 54% of industry professionals who have left advertising in recent years did so because the work was simply not challenging enough for them.

“You have a lot of talent in the mid-level parts of their career, who are wanting to step up, who believe in themselves, who have very big entrepreneurial spirit, but because of how the industry is structured, progression is so linear, and so we are losing talent because people are moving outside the industry.”

She cites slow progression and low salaries as a key factor in this, as mid-level workers are also moving outside the industry to increase their salaries amid the soaring cost of living.

“For me, if this industry needs to ask what it can offer talent at the mid-levels of their careers, what experience can they have in our agencies if we can’t compete with other sectors like tech from a salary perspective?”

Wildin feels there is a lot of enthusiasm from mid-level workers to be invested in, to be given opportunities to network and to be mentored, but not enough leaders are engaging in the internal recruitment process of the mid- to senior-level pipeline.

This lack of investment will likely effect those from marginalized groups most predominantly, as diversity and inclusion efforts in recent years have focused primarily on women and people from ethnic minority backgrounds. 60% of junior and entry-level roles are occupied by women, and individuals from a non-white background occupy 27.1% of entry- and junior-level roles, according to the IPA census.

In his opening address to the conference, historian and broadcaster David Olusoga told the IPA that the creative industries are “behind the curve” of other industries “we would like to assume we are far more progressive than.”

He concluded that “many other sectors that are far less culturally liberal, such as the law, are doing more and doing it faster, and doing it better than we are.”

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