“It’s not a talent churn, it’s a vortex”, so says Kate Robertson co-Global President of Havas Worldwide when considering the challenge of recruiting and retaining the people needed to satisfy client demands.
Asia's talent shortage is an oft-discussed problem. We all know that people with genuine passion and ability in the whole range of marketing-related skills from media planning to digital creative are in short supply, and that almost all employees, not just the best people, are difficult to retain.
The marketing and advertising sector is not helped by the fact that it needs specific skills. Strategic planners, digital marketers, packaging designers, insight directors, crisis management consultants, online editors and the like—do not grow on trees. The sector requires specific talents and competencies not just relevant to the industry but often the precise nature of the employer's business. For example an agency seeking a group account director for a women's cosmetics business will usually request someone who not only has the skills and experience required by the job discipline but also knowledge of the category to be serviced. Small pools quickly become puddles.
So what do we do about it?
- For the long term the industry needs to builds its brand amongst graduates across the world. Far too much exposure is gained by the financial services and professional services sectors. These are the default career areas for aspiring graduates. The marketing and advertising sector needs to up its game and do what is does for a living but this time make itself the client. The sector needs to brand itself as a great career option—which it is.
- Companies need to stop chasing the same talent round and round and open up to complementary skill sets. Everyone thinks so short term. Square hole, square peg. By the time you have found your square peg you could have hired a round one that has skilled up and brought a fresh perspective. Start looking at people from outside the sector who demonstrate complementary skills and competencies.
- After visiting 10 countries in the region, I saw precious little evidence of staff-retention strategies. Has everyone simply given up? It is difficult enough to recruit when you are growing, but if you are constantly losing people the task becomes near impossible. Companies need to start focussing on staff engagement, find out what really motivates their people, get people involved in wider aspects of the business and engage with them.
- There is precious little evidence of employer branding strategies. Companies should be looking to plant seeds now and start engaging with potential employees of the future. So you need to know what your employer brand actually stands for, what does it mean to your people and all other stakeholders. As marketers, surely this should come easy.
- Make it easy to apply, show that you are interested in anyone who expresses an interest. Messages such as ‘we will only contact successful applicants’ are about as arrogant as it gets. Is that the message you would advise your clients to use?
- Be aware of how you manage people through the recruitment process. Is it open, transparent, friendly and efficient? Or do you take ages to get back to people, take a while to give feedback, take time to organise interviews? Just think about it as if you were the candidate. What is it like to apply to your own company?
- If you use third parties such as recruitment consultants, you should consider them to be your employer brand ambassador. Have you taken the time to check them out and meet them? How are they presenting your precious opportunity to the target candidate?
To source talent you have to be proactive on every front. You need to create an employer brand strategy and invest in the relevant media and social networks, using a consistent theme. You need an integrated, multi-platform approach ensuring that the message is mobile friendly. We are in the creative industries and we have to get creative about recruitment. Connecting or sending a message on LinkedIn? That is just one part of the engagement. In some countries LinkedIn has very little penetration and there are instant messaging services or Facebook and its equivalents to use as a way to build the brand.
The big operators have wisely invested in large-scale trainee schemes to fill the gaps at the lower levels, but naturally have to wait for that raw talent to evolve into credible advice for their clients.
According to Clare Muhiudeen, MD of talent and rewards at Towers Watson, nearly 75 per cent of companies around the world are having challenges with critical skill employees. Now is the time to invest time and money into a long-term recruitment and retention strategy.
Paul Farrer is chairman of Aspire Global Network.