Plugging the digital advertising talent gaps

There is no one solution that will fix this issue says Alpha Digital’s Chris Lockwood – scaling talent in an agency more sustainably requires a healthy mix of short and long term thinking

For its inaugural Industry Talent Report, the IAB has quantified what many of us have experienced over the last 12-18 months. Vacancies for digital advertising and ad tech roles have doubled in the last year.

There have been many anecdotal reports I’ve heard from agencies, recruiters and clients about struggles in-market. We’ve witnessed a change in behaviours since the start of the pandemic and a restricted supply of international talent. We know the talent market is incredibly tight right now, but in all honesty it’s been heading this way since before COVID-19 entered our shores. 

It’s an incredible scenario for talent to jump roles, and a difficult scenario for agencies dealing with talent shortages and rapidly increasing wages, 10-20 percent in many cases, says the IAB. And all of this is bad for Australian business with 28 percent of work now being offshored.  

From a short-term perspective, we have found huge value in having a recruitment partner that intimately knows who we are and what we stand for. They’re able to jump in to hire for roles when we need it at short notice – especially for senior positions. 

However as the IAB report indicates, mid-level talent is now commanding wages which outstrip their suitability and the whole cycle is unsustainable. Driving better outcomes which are more sustainable and scalable for long-term growth requires future planning. One way is to train from within and I wanted to share our experience to date. 

Long-term investments

 

Training and upskilling employees is one of the main ways the industry is going to get through this period. We have seen some great initiatives for companies such as Quantcast and their Qacademy. Some of our clients, such as City Beach, promote people with great brand knowledge from within and train them. This gives them access to do digital marketing with an amazing brand and marketing skills. 

Three years ago we took a collective approach for the agency to focus on giving graduates well-rounded training across all of our disciplines. Much like a sports team that is unable to consistently overbid on proven talent, we’ve focused on drafting in those with the right attitude and upskilling on the job. Now heading into its third cohort, our 360 degree graduate program has not been without its challenges. We underestimated the time and resources we’d need to dedicate to the facilitation of each secondment to make it a success.

One of our key learnings, and something we have observed from other brands and clients, has been to invest in systems and tech. This allows elements of the recruitment, onboarding, and training to be as efficient and replicable as possible. We’ve recorded training sessions, digitised onboarding documentation and even standardised the recruitment process using new tools available.

Despite it being relatively low numbers for the industry all of the grads who have come through to date have been offered roles at the end of the year-long initiative adding to the industry’s talent pool. While this doesn’t solve the short-term talent squeeze, our hope is that by running a structured grad program every year (and encouraging other agencies to do the same), in a few years time there will be an abundance of incredible, well trained talent in the market which will begin to reduce the strain.

It’s also exciting to see industry bodies like the IMAA launching similar programs and recognising the importance of providing holistic, and future-focused training in an environment where staff have been denied the opportunity to learn face to face with colleagues. The new Facebook and IMAA University will offer digital marketing and leadership training for the ‘rising stars’ of independent agencies and covers a range of digital marketing skills including media buying, planning, strategy, and creative.

Mapping out the future

 

The ‘Great Resignation’ is the key issue for nearly every employer right now, and while some are throwing money at the problem, others are focusing on psychological factors that make work more meaningful and sustainable. Mapping out progression pathways and providing career transparency are becoming an essential part of employee engagement and retention. Consider this, a recent study by Glassdoor revealed that 73 percent of employees change employers to get ahead in their careers, while only 27 percent stayed at their current employer for their next role.

So, we have just onboarded a new employee engagement platform at Alpha Digital, which helps us to create transparent growth pathways for multiple roles throughout our agency. That means that team members get visibility over their future growth and the skills that they need to develop to progress. Every growth track is also published agency wide, which means that individuals can even jump off a track that might not be the right fit to a better one. It’s a tool that we can use to provide consistent and equitable career guidance to our entire team, while helping them build towards their career goals. If an individual can see sustainable and meaningful growth mapped out in front of them, they are less likely to be enticed by a quick pay rise from a competitor. 

Mediabrands boss, Mark Coad, has recently highlighted this challenge. He is deeply concerned that rampant poaching and over-promotion to retain staff is creating double negative effects. It’s driving wage inflation while putting people under too much pressure in jobs that they may not be able to handle. 

Make growth meaningful

 

I don’t have a foolproof implementable plan for every exec out there, but I wanted to share some of our recent experiences in the hope that we make the industry more attractive to more people and offer meaningful career growth opportunities that don’t result in burnout, and thus widen the talent pool for us all.

Chris Lockwood is the client services director at Alpha Digital.