Vox pop: What can the industry do to attract more young people?

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

Drum Network members weigh in and suggest ways the industry can appeal to young people.

It's no secret that the marketing industry has an issue with attracting young talent into some of its most vital roles. So what can marketers do to entice more young people through the industry's door?

We caught up with various industry insiders to find out what they suggested.

Imogen Lassen, account manager at Sagittarius

Our main challenge is how do we make our industry more visible? I have delivered guest lectures at schools and universities and every time I'm amazed by how little students know practically about what we do. We should be educating students about the types of work we do, the types of organisations you can work for (“there’s a thing called an agency…”) and where skills fit in. These should be basics but are not widely known amongst young people considering their career options.

A key driver for young talent is the desire to make a difference. 54% of millennials said that having an opportunity to “exercise influence” is one of the driving factors keeping them engaged with their current employer. We should be communicating how skills and individuals can contribute to the tangible success of an organisation. Promoting our values and culture is part of this, as is providing a clear progression path and having a forum for recognising achievements in the workplace.

Careers in marketing generally have a low barrier to entry and attractive starting salaries - let’s celebrate this! Agile ways of working should also be more widely embraced. When I’ve spoken to students it has been to those studying Digital Marketing or ICT...what about those studying Arts, Humanities and STEM subjects? These faculties feed specialisms that are in demand and we should be reaching out to them.

One thing is for certain, as the skills gap widens and the need for young talent increases, the onus will be on us to attract them. Organisations should coordinate their own recruitment drives, attend careers fairs and deliver talks to get ahead and attract the cream of the crop.

Danny Bluestone, founder & CEO at Cyber-Duck

Digital has become the new 'shop window' for every business. Everything a user does goes through digital touchpoints first. Because of this, the number of new roles and opportunities for young people in marketing have increased, both brand- and agency-side. Agencies must do more to attract young talent. Our environment is a natural fit for young people, as we can offer the diversity, flexibility and fast-paced environment they're after. Most want to hit the ground running with real responsibility, growth opportunities and simply, something memorable about the company. We can do this by offering engaging performance training programmes in-house.

At Cyber-Duck, we encourage our young team to up-skill across the board so they can see what suits them; from support with directly relevant qualifications (such as Google Analytics certifications) to unique sessions with our user experience design team. Lastly, we offer something different via our research and development programme. Young marketers have been involved in everything from life-size Santas that dance in respond to tweets, to logo light features with colours that anyone can customise. Appealing to their keen sense of social justice, we aim to build projects 'for good' such as the social care assistant, Jim.Care last year.

The last thing we recommend doing is setting realistic expectations for young talent. Whilst the world is going crazy about flexible, remote and easy hours, it's irresponsible for agencies or brands to promise a young graduate to come in and expect to be given flexible and a massive pay cheque. What we need to do as experienced and seasoned professionals is be realistic with young talent all the way from the job advert, to the interview and make sure we have the right type of training and performance management programmes and about how long it takes to become competent. Think about Maclolm’s Gladwell 10,000 hour rule and take it form there.

Will Worsdell, co-founder & strategy director at The Park

It's important to remember that although there have been some fundamental shifts in what young people want from jobs compared to previous generations, there are some things that remain important. The positive move towards more progressive ways of working doesn't negate the need for young people to be properly paid, given clear success metrics, and opportunities to progress. The same things people entering the world of work have wanted for generations. But some there are three things, in particular, that have become way more important- flexibility, autonomy, and mental health.

The current generation entering management roles were the first to move away from the "job for life" notion. And today's younger generation have increased the movement towards more flexible jobs, embracing the freelance culture and "slashy" approach of combining jobs to create the work-life they want. The Park embraces part-time, freelance and flexible working. It creates better work and happier employees.

This generation are more entrepreneurial than previous cohorts, technology has made starting a business seem so much easier, so businesses need to offer a degree of autonomy and opportunity for entrepreneurialism. The great thing for us at The Park is that we're at a size where every single employee can have a tangible input on the direction of the business which is a big appeal for young people.

The marketing industry, rightly, finally, is much more aware and considerate of employees' mental health. And the more progressive ones are putting various initiatives in place to improve it. Young people are extremely comfortable talking about their mental health to a friend (a recent study suggested 92% of students are), much more so than older employees. Modern workplaces need to be places where these discussions are normal and open if they want to attract young people.

Dave Reed, director at Giants & Titans

“The marketing industry has had it too easy for too long when it comes to attracting young talent. Traditionally seen as a ‘sexy’ career choice for graduates, over recent years there hasn’t been the same focus on attracting and retaining young talent as there has in major consultancy firms and client-side businesses.

What the best consultancies, agencies and marketing departments have realised is that young people are no longer looking for a career for life, but a place where they can learn new skills, develop personally and work in a way that suits them and their lifestyle. They’re driven by passion rather than ambition or a sense of ‘having to work’, so look for jobs that fit in with their passions and what they consider to be the best use of their time and talents.

Life’s short and there are now more options than ever before. The idea that a large prestigious ad firm, or any business for that matter, can recruit young people and expect them to do nothing but menial admin work for two years should be null and void. If they’re not passionate about their work, don’t believe in it, or it doesn’t challenge or inspire them, they’ll put up a massive wall of resistance.

At Giants & Titans we’re committed to giving everyone in the team the chance to work on varied, challenging and interesting projects. There’s an appreciation that the best creative ideas don’t happen if you’re chained to your desk from 8am to 8pm. Good work can happen at anytime and in any place, which is why we encourage flexible working. We actively canvas all our staff for their opinions and ideas and respect that the people we recruit, no matter what age or level of experience, have a contribution to make to the agency and our clients.

Overall, the approach we take to recruitment is the same as our approach to client acquisition. Namely, being honest and upfront from the start, avoiding buzzwords, clichés and technical jargon and working closely towards our mutual benefit. Finally, there’s the realisation that just as not every client is going to stay with us forever, neither is every staff member. If we do part ways we part as friends, without any unnecessary acrimony.”

Jessica Hollingbery, senior marketing manager at TIPi Group

As marketers, we’re supposed to be good at evolving; we’re constantly harnessing fresh technologies and tapping into new trends, but while we’ve been innovating for our clients, we’ve neglected a key part of our own businesses – our recruitment. Ironically, marketing has forgotten to market itself to the next generation. Fresh talent is the lifeblood of any industry, and as Gen Z come into the workplace it’s crucial that we understand what they want. If we don’t, we risk jeopardising the future of the industry we love. So, what do Gen Z actually want?

Continuous learning, flexibility, a collaborative working environment, diverse roles, opportunities to travel… the list goes on and on, but the key to understanding this generation coming to terms with their unshakeable belief that they have ‘the power to choose’. When we built our TIPi Academy last year, we put choice front and centre.

TIPi Academy, our recruitment and training initiative, takes ambitious young individuals, ready to start a career, through a two-week course exposing them to the hard and soft skills of digital marketing and the wider advertising landscape. With different employees switching on and off our interview panel, young staff members sharing their passion and advice, and seniors giving feedback on student pitching and presentation techniques, we hope to demonstrate our collaborative culture and our interest in the development of our talent. The various tasks from practice interviews, to workshops, to the final pitch, give students a chance to show how they deal with relevant scenarios, practicing what they preach in their CVs and giving us an honest look at who they really are – what motivates them, what challenges them and what drives them.

TIPi Academy educates our students and gives them the information they need to choose a role that they will love. When fresh recruits understand their role and are genuinely interested in it, they’re guaranteed to be a good investment.

Barney Hosey, Managing director at Signal

It should come as no surprise that attracting the best young talent into our industry is an issue. Consulting and tech sectors generally do a better job of attracting and retaining young people. We’re also increasingly competing with clients, who continue to invest in their in-house teams. And despite being very good at thinking about needs and behaviours of different demographics in our daily craft, the marketing industry has been slow at adapting to the needs of young employees.

What to do about it? Sounds obvious, but it's fundamentally about investing in a talent strategy. Relying on interns who may or may not demonstrate potential, or targeting people ‘with a couple of years relevant experience so they can hit the ground running’ doesn’t cut it.

Setting the bar high so the brightest young people choose your agency, rather than the management consultants or tech startups down the road, requires significant planning and long-term investment. Set ambitious goals, break the norm, and make developing young talent a strategic priority, and you will attract the right people.

My experience when we launched our Grad Programme was ‘why didn't we do this years ago?’ We found that young talent really stepped up when they were trusted and encouraged to take ownership of projects and solve real world client problems.

If you expect graduates to sit tight until they ‘earn their stripes’, they’ll leave. Beyond the initial steep learning curve, exceptional people will want to keep learning and being challenged. So mentoring and fast track programmes are critical, as is giving people a variety of challenges and environments to work in.

It’s also critical to empathise with and accommodate the value judgements of young people. Work-life balance and flexible working really matter - ‘work hard, play hard’ is not a mantra that makes sense to millennials. And the way employers do business and approach CSR really matters to young folk.

In many ways, younger generations are more demanding. But that’s a good thing. Create an attractive place for young people to thrive and develop, and your whole workforce will thank you for it.

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